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Hawks can get a step closer by topping Canadiens

by David Kalan
BLACKHAWKS (42-28-8) at CANADIENS (42-30-7)


Last 10:
Chicago 5-4-1; Montreal 4-6-0

Season series: This is the only meeting of the season for the Original Six rivals. Chicago took the only game between the two last season, a 3-2 victory on Oct. 30, 2009 at the United Center.

Big story: Few cross-conference games get bigger than this in the season's final week. Beyond the shared history, Montreal and Chicago could both have their postseason fates determined by what happens Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks: Memories of Chicago's Stanley Cup victory last June aren't exactly distant, but there is concern that they may be the only memories Hawks fans can cling to this spring. With four games remaining, the Blackhawks are in danger of becoming the first defending champs to miss out on the postseason since the 2007 Carolina Hurricanes. While the Hawks' currently inhabit the eighth spot, a playoff berth is far from secure, particularly considering Chicago's brutal closing schedule, which, in addition to Tuesday night's contest, includes a season-ending home-and-home with Detroit.

The closest team to the Hawks out West is Calgary, which is just one point back, but the Blackhawks have two games in hand on the Flames, giving them a substantial advantage. Of bigger concern is likely Dallas, which is three points back, but has the same amount of games remaining and a far more favorable schedule. Chicago hasn't helped itself lately, either. The Hawks lost to Tampa Bay on Sunday night and haven't won in regulation in five games. On the upside, a win would not only buy significant breathing room in the race, it could also hop Chicago over Anaheim for seventh place.

Canadiens: Montreal's situation is far more palatable than Chicago's these days, but the Habs have been enduring a slump of their own. The Canadiens have won just two of their last six games, a down stretch that not only cost them a shot at the Northeast Division title, but also has delayed a long-expected playoff berth.

The Canadiens may not have to wait much longer, though. A win Tuesday night would seal up a fourth consecutive extended spring by virtue of a tiebreaker over ninth-place Carolina. Having that peace of mind could put memories of Montreal's rough stretch to rest, a process that may have been started Saturday night with a 3-1 win over New Jersey. After suffering three straight shutout losses in late March, a postseason berth may be the only thing to satisfy the tenacious fans in Quebec.

Who's hot: Patrick Kane has continued to produce during Chicago's slump, tallying 4 points in his last four games. … Mathieu Darche has been lighting up the score sheet for Montreal with 3 goals in his last three games.

Injury report:
Chicago is still waiting for the offensive boost that would come from Patrick Sharp, who has been out two weeks with a left knee injury. … Montreal could be missing Alexandre Picard (foot) and Jeff Halpern (lower-body injury), who are listed as questionable for Tuesday.

Stat pack: One of the biggest issues for the Hawks this season as opposed to last could be the weakening defense down the stretch. The Hawks have brought in additions like Chris Campoli to shore up the back end, but while Chicago allowed just 15 shots against Tampa Bay, over the previous three games the Hawks surrendered an average of 34.3 shots, a total way off the mark from last season's League-leading 25.1.

Puck drop: Neither team is playing how it would like to heading into the postseason, but the bigger priority is simply getting there. Both Chicago and Montreal could get back on the horse with a victory Tuesday night, but getting one step closer to clinching a berth, or putting the concern to rest in Montreal's case, is the ultimate goal.

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