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Koivu gets closer to return as Canadiens look to close out series @NHL

MONTREAL - There's a chance that captain Saku Koivu will be ready to return from his foot injury to help the Montreal Canadiens close out their playoff series with the Boston Bruins.

Coach Guy Carbonneau made no promises when he met with the media on Friday at the Bell Centre, but it appears that Koivu's return is now the player's decision and not that of the team doctors.

"If he says he's ready," said Carbonneau. "He's not a rookie. He's been hurt before.

"He's been in this league long enough to know what he needs to do and what he can do. I don't see a problem."

Koivu has been out for three weeks with a fractured bone in his left foot and watched from the press box as the Canadiens took a 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference playoff series with the Boston Bruins.

And then he saw his club suffer a meltdown in Game 5 at home on Thursday night, a 5-1 defeat in Montreal's first attempt to put away the hard-working Bruins.

The veteran centre has been skating with fellow injured players in recent days and reportedly has looked strong. He pushed harder on Friday than before and "we'll see how he reacts to it in the morning," said Carbonneau.

"Practice is different from a game. You've got to be willing to get in front of those shots and there' a lot more stops and starts. It's a gruelling 60 minutes, so you have to be ready for everything."

Koivu's skill, experience and ability to win faceoffs would be a boost to a club whose attack has produced only six goals in four games since opening the series with a 4-1 win.

It would also allow speedy Christopher Higgins to move back to the wing after centring the second line in the playoffs thus far, and reunite what had been an effective trio late in the regular season with shifty right-winger Sergei Kostitsyn.

Koivu was not available for comment.

Carbonneau also said defenceman and power-play point man Mark Streit, who sat out Game 5 with a hip injury, would try to skate Saturday morning to see if he can play. The same goes for defenceman Francis Bouillon, who has yet to play in the series due to a bruised ankle, although the coach sounded less optimistic in his case.

"Every time he pushed hard so far, the next day he was sore, so we want to wait to see how he feels," Carbonneau said.

The Canadiens returned from Boston on a high, needing only one win to advance to the conference semifinals.

They had their euphoric home fans roaring as they controlled the first period and took a 1-0 lead on an Alex Kovalev effort, but stopped skating in the second period and let the Bruins take over the game.

It was a night of horror for rookie goalie Carey Price, who allowed five goals in Game 5 - as many as he allowed in the four previous games, including a bungled play on the game-winner by Glen Metropolit in which he dropped the puck for teammate Maxim Lapierre without noticing that two Bruins were waiting to pounce on it.

Now the 20-year-old has to clear his head and be ready to face a much more offensively confident Bruins team on Boston ice, where he shut them out 1-0 in Game 4 on Tuesday.

Carbonneau is looking for the same resilience Price showed while leading Montreal's top farm club the Hamilton Bulldogs to an AHL championship last spring.

"Carey was always able to bounce back from a loss or a bad performance and I don't see why he wouldn't now," said Carbonneau. "That's one of his strong points.

"When Hamilton won the Calder Cup last year, he didn't win 16 games in a row. He had games where he struggled, but when it came time to bury a team or close it out, he was always strong. So I feel confident that he can come back."

If not, a nervy Game 7 may await Monday night back at the Bell Centre.

One area Koivu's return could help is the power play.

Tops in the NHL during the regular season, the Canadiens have scored only twice on 25 chances against the Bruins, who have been brilliant in blocking shots and closing off the passing lanes.

Carbonneau was especially annoyed with their 0-for-4 effort in game 5, saying the units simply didn't work hard enough to score.

"It all comes down to being a little more hungry for the puck," said Tomas Plekanec, the centre on the first power-play unit with Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn. "We need to get it deep and get set up so we can make some plays.

"Sometimes it seemed we weren't even able to set up."

The Bruins have played particular attention to Kovalev and point man Andrei Markov, who both like to control the puck with the man advantage.

Kovalev said the power play units have to learn to deal with the close checking.

"It's not so much what they're doing, it's what we're doing against ourselves," said Kovalev. "It's a lack of decision making and timing.

"In the regular season, we had good timing and we were making the right decisions and now we're not doing that. It's like the worse it gets, the worse we're making it. We need to regroup and remember what we did in the regular season and get back to basics."

Since the series opener, the Canadiens have encountered a Boston team that checks relentlessly and leaves little room for making the fancy plays and dazzling rushes Montreal used to finish first in the conference this season.

The notion that speed and skill alone is enough to overwhelm the eighth-seeded Bruins has been hard to purge from their minds, however.

"We need to have a sense of urgency to win," said Carbonneau. "The last game, they played like they knew there was no tomorrow, but we knew there was a tomorrow and didn't work hard enough.

"Next game, we need to learn from that and get back to basics. When we skate and work hard, we have a better team than them, but we need to do it for 60 minutes."

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