PANTHERS (25-19-12) at CANADIENS (37-15-4)
TV: FS-F, RDS, SNE
MONTREAL -- You can count Florida Panthers coach Gerard Gallant as another among his NHL brethren who believe Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price is having a Hart Trophy caliber season.
Though voting for the League's Most Valuable Player award will be held by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, Gallant is the second NHL coach to put Price at the top of his list so far this season.
"He's been outstanding all year," Gallant said Thursday after Florida's morning skate at Bell Centre. "I mean, there's no doubt if you had to pick an MVP today, he's probably the guy. There's other guys, [Washington Capitals forward Alex] Ovechkin and them, having great seasons but what Carey Price has done for this team this year, and last year he had a great year but this year he's been outstanding, so I would think he's the MVP today."
On Tuesday, Capitals coach Barry Trotz named Price when he was asked if there was a clear-cut best player in the League right now.
Price, who was rested Wednesday in Montreal's 4-2 loss at the Ottawa Senators, has won 10 of his past 11 starts. He has a personal five-game winning streak as he gets ready to face the Panthers behind a banged-up Canadiens defense.
Montreal recalled defenseman Jarred Tinordi from Hamilton of the American Hockey League on Wednesday after Alexei Emelin left the game in Ottawa because he sustained an upper-body injury on his first shift. P.K. Subban was hobbled after blocking a shot in the second period Thursday; he remained in the game, though, and finished with 30:45 of ice time.
The Canadiens (37-16-4), who did not skate Thursday, are in first place in the Eastern Conference with 78 points.
Gallant will be behind the bench at Bell Centre for the first time since the Eastern Conference Final of last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"We're in a playoff hunt and we're playing a big game [Thursday] so it's real good," Gallant said. "I had two great years here so I had a lot of fun here and good memories of this team."
Florida (25-19-12) is in fifth place in the Atlantic Division with 62 points, three behind the Boston Bruins for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
"We're taking it one step at a time," Gallant said. "Right now we're fighting for that spot. We're in the ninth spot and we've still got a long way to go, but no, we'd love to make the playoffs, but it's not going to be a devastating year if we don't make the playoffs. We want to make it, we're working hard to make it and we're playing the right way so if things work out and we make the playoffs it would be great for our team but we're just trying to play one game at a time, stay in that playoff race and play good hockey."
Here are the projected lineups:
Jussi Jokinen - Nick Bjugstad - Jimmy Hayes
Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Brad Boyes
Tomas Fleischmann - Dave Bolland - Scottie Upshall
Tomas Kopecky - Derek MacKenzie - Shawn Thornton
Brian Campbell - Aaron Ekblad
Shane O'Brien - Erik Gudbranson
Steven Kampfer - Alex Petrovic
Scratched: Sean Bergenheim
Injured: Willie Mitchell (upper body), Brandon Pirri (upper body)
Suspended: Dmitry Kulikov
Max Pacioretty – David Desharnais- Dale Weise
Alex Galchenyuk – Tomas Plekanec – Brendan Gallagher
Lars Eller – Jacob De La Rose – Brandon Prust
Jiri Sekac – Michael Bournival – Christian Thomas
Andrei Markov – P.K. Subban
Nathan Beaulieu – Tom Gilbert
Jarred Tinordi – Mike Weaver
Scratched: Greg Pateryn, Manny Malhotra
Injured: Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau (concussion), Alexei Emelin (upper body), Sergei Gonchar (upper body)
Status report: Panthers captain Mitchell skated Thursday but remains day-to-day and will not return against Montreal. Gonchar was placed on injured reserve. He left in the first period Saturday with an upper-body injury after he fell headfirst into the boards when he was checked by Toronto Maple Leafs forward David Clarkson.
Who's hot: Bjugstad has scored a goal in four of the past five games. He has five goals and two assists in his past eight games. Luongo has allowed two goals or less in each of his past six starts (3-1-2). Plekanec has four goals and three assists in his past seven games.