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Lightning without Kucherov, Hedman against Canadiens

Tampa Bay forward, defenseman expected to be ready for Stanley Cup Playoffs

by Sean Farrell / NHL.com Correspondent

LIGHTNING (46-30-5) at CANADIENS (37-38-6)

TV: 7 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, SN, FS-F, NHL.TV

MONTREAL -- Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov will not be in the lineup against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Saturday.

Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman will miss his third straight game because of an upper-body injury, though he and Kucherov will likely be ready to start the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"You don't want to limp into the playoffs," coach Jon Cooper said. "The game matters. There's guys that are banged up. You still don't want to lose your structure, you want to have your compete because we don't play again until Wednesday, but there is a part of you that needs to put your best foot forward on Wednesday. If you can get your guys a little bit more rest, especially this time of year, to heal some wounds, then so be it, and [Kucherov] is one of those guys."

Cooper is also without forwards Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan, and defenseman Anton Stralman.

"The problem is when you lose your best forward and arguably your top two defensemen those are big holes, as Montreal has found out during the year when you lose guys of that magnitude," Cooper said. "If we were a new group I'd be a little bit more concerned, but we've been together and we've found a way to weather it."

Left wing Jonathan Drouin will play his second game since he was recalled from Syracuse of the American Hockey League. Drouin scored the game-winning goal in Tampa Bay's 4-2 win at the New Jersey Devils on Thursday in his first NHL game since Dec. 30.

"Well, I don't want to sit here and put pressure on Drouin that he's got to now score the goals that [Stamkos] would have scored, that's completely unfair, but he is an offensive threat," Cooper said. "He is a player that, as you saw in the [New] Jersey game, we needed the big goal to win the game and he was the kid who got it. 

"He's used to doing that. It's just a matter of him being more comfortable playing in the National Hockey League and that's why we have him here now. He got his legs under him in the American [Hockey] League and now, when we've been ravaged by injuries, he's got the talent and the drive and everything we need to push us forward."

Cooper said there was no awkwardness about Drouin's return to the Lightning after he had requested a trade.

"I'll be honest, everybody was really excited when he came back and I think you could see it in our play, you could see it in his play," Cooper said. "We play a game, and it's fun to play this game, but there is a business side to it and there's a young man who stood to his conviction, he thought this is the route he had to take, and he took it and you can't really fault him for that. Whether we can sit here and debate today or for years down the road if it was the right thing to do, ultimately he's back, we want him back, and most importantly he's earned his way back."

Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy will make his second start in three games for Tampa Bay.

Mike Condon's start for Montreal will be his 55th game, the most by a Canadiens rookie goalie since Ken Dryden played 64 games in 1971-72.

Forward Brian Flynn returns to the Canadiens lineup for the first time since he sustained a lower-body injury on Feb. 9.

"They originally said six to eight weeks, so it definitely took a lot longer than I thought," Flynn said. "It just takes a lot of time to heal and I'll need some more time over the summer, but I worked hard to try and get in some games at the end of the year so I'm happy that I can get one in."

Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said he finds it tough to see Montreal out of the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.

"Usually at this time of year you're really excited because by Wednesday the playoffs will start, and it's no fun," Therrien said.

Here are the projected lineups:

LIGHTNING

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Jonathan Marchessault  

Jonathan Drouin - Valtteri Filppula - Alex Killorn

Cedric Paquette - Vladislav Namestnikov - J.T. Brown

Erik Condra - Brian Boyle - Mike Blunden  

Nikita Nesterov - Matthew Carle  

Jason Garrison - Andrej Sustr  

Braydon Coburn - Matt Taormina  

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Ben Bishop  

Injured: Ryan Callahan (lower body), Steven Stamkos (blood clot), Nikita Kucherov (undisclosed), Victor Hedman (upper body), Anton Stralman (fractured fibula)

Scratched: None

CANADIENS

Max Pacioretty - Alex Galchenyuk - Brendan Gallagher

Lars Eller - Tomas Plekanec - Daniel Carr

Phillip Danault - David Desharnais - Sven Andrighetto

Paul Byron - Torrey Mitchell - Brian Flynn

Andrei Markov - Greg Pateryn

Alexei Emelin - Ryan Johnston

Joel Hanley - Darren Dietz

Mike Condon

Charlie Lindgren

Injured: Carey Price (knee), P.K. Subban (neck), Nathan Beaulieu (broken thumb), Mark Barberio (concussion), Jeff Petry (sports hernia), Tom Gilbert (knee), Lucas Lessio (knee), Victor Bartley (lower body), Brett Lernout (lower body)

Scratched: Stefan Matteau, Mike Brown

Status report: Hedman skated Saturday, but Kucherov and Callahan did not. Callahan is expected to be ready to return for the start of the playoffs. Marshessault slotted into Kucherov's spot at right wing with Johnson and Palat. 

Who's hot: Namestnikov has a three-game assist streak. … Kucherov has a goal and four assists in his past four games. … Carle has four assists in his past three games. … Gallagher has a three-game point streak (one goal, two assists) since returning from a lower-body injury. … Dietz has one goal and two assists in his past three games. … Plekanec has three assists in three games. 

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