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Islanders start crucial stretch by hosting Canadiens

by Brian Compton
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The New York Islanders have an opportunity to get over the .500 mark as they host the Montreal Canadiens tonight at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

The Isles (22-22-8) are a .500 club this late in the season for the first time in five years after Evgeni Nabokov guided them to a 1-0 victory at Philadelphia on Tuesday night. New York enters tonight's action nine points behind the Ottawa Senators for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but the Isles have four games in hand. Ottawa plays host to Nashville tonight.

"We've got to try to win hockey games right now," Isles coach Jack Capuano said. "It's a crucial two-week stretch for us."

Montreal (21-24-9) is seeking its third straight win after earning a 3-2 shootout win against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Bell Centre on Tuesday night. The victory allowed the Canadiens to move within 10 points of Ottawa, although the Habs have only two games in hand.

"Everybody's in the race," Canadiens coach Randy Cunneyworth said. "Everybody's got something to play for each and every night. We have to be on our game. We've built some good work of late, but that's not good enough. We can't rest on any laurels. We want to keep it going."

Here are the expected lines tonight for each club:

Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Mathieu Darche - Tomas Plekanec - Travis Moen
Andrei Kostitsyn - Scott Gomez - Rene Bourque
Louis Leblanc - Lars Eller - Aaron Palushaj

Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Hal Gill - Raphael Diaz
Tomas Kaberle - Alexei Emelin

Carey Price gets the start in goal. Peter Budaj will be the backup.

Diaz returns to Montreal's blue line after missing the last two games. Cunneyworth said it will be a game-time decision as to who Diaz will replace in the lineup. The Canadiens promoted Palushaj from AHL Hamilton on Wednesday as Yannick Weber is out with a leg injury.

Matt Moulson - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Michael Grabner - Frans Nielsen - PA Parenteau
Rhett Rakhshani - Josh Bailey - Matt Martin
Tim Wallace - Jay Pandolfo - Nino Niederreiter

Mark Streit - Steve Staios
Andrew MacDonald - Milan Jurcina
Mark Eaton - Aaron Ness

Nabokov, who stole a 1-0 shootout victory for the Islanders in Philadelphia on Tuesday night in a remarkable 45-save performance, gets the start in goal. Al Montoya will be the backup.

Travis Hamonic (nose), Rick DiPietro (lower body), Mike Mottau (concussion), Marty Reasoner (hand) and Dylan Reese (knee) are out for New York. Jurcina is returning to the lineup after missing the last two games with a laceration on his elbow. Brian Rolston will be a healthy scratch for a fifth straight game.

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL

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