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Notes: Playoff push begins in earnest against Canadiens

Back-to-back games versus Montreal crucial to Detroit's playoff hopes

by Arthur J. Regner @arthurjregner /

DETROIT -- While most of the Red Wings took advantage of the optional part of Thursday's optional morning skate and stayed away from Little Caesars Arena, Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill was discussing the importance of his team's home-and-home series against Montreal, which begins tonight in Detroit and concludes Saturday at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

Heading into tonight's game, the Wings and Canadiens have recently been trending in opposite directions.

Montreal is riding a three-game winning streak and is 3-1-1 in its last five games. Detroit is 0-2-3 in its last five games.

The Wings and Canadiens each have 25 points, but the Wings sit in fourth place in the Atlantic Division with Montreal in fifth because Detroit has played one less game.

In an extremely tight Eastern Conference where it appears the Metropolitan Division could qualify five teams for the playoffs and with Tampa Bay and Toronto almost a lock to finish in the top two spots in the Atlantic, the Wings and Canadiens are competing for third place in their division, which would secure a playoff spot.

"It's going to be tight for sure. There's no bad teams in the East at all, none," Blashill said. "Every team, every single night is a battle. So it'll be tight right down to the end.

"Certainly, in our division, Tampa's separated themselves, Toronto looks like they've separated themselves a little bit, we'd like to catch both of them but they've certainly put some cushion in there.

"Now you're at one spot, I'm not saying that's how it will be at the end of the year. You got to fight for those, there's obviously a couple of wild card spots in there, too. We've talked about it lots. Again, every game's critical. I haven't been shy about saying that, every game is like a playoff game."

Yet, the Wings have a golden opportunity to put a little distance between themselves and the Canadiens if they can skate away with four points in these next two games.

After Saturday's tilt in Montreal, Detroit returns home for a five-game homestand; though their record at home is a pedestrian 4-4-4, the Wings believe they are close to establishing their home ice, but it is a difficult task.

"We're trying to create that momentum and roll here in our building," defenseman Mike Green said after practice on Wednesday. "I wouldn't say it's easy, if we can kind of get some wins here and create some energy, we can kind of roll with it, but it's tough to get it going.

"We obviously knew going into this home stretch we're playing some good teams. We really want to focus on getting our points here at home and we've kind of had a little bit of a setback here but we do have some time to get those final points and we're going to make sure we do it."

As melodramatic as it may sound; if the Wings want to make a statement and send a message to the league, what better way than to take care of the Canadiens, especially with a healthy and resurgent Carey Price back in net?

"I look at game one to game 82 equal and they're all to me playoff games. We've talked about that lots, that's how tight the league is," Blashill said. "Nobody has enough, I guess, skill level above everybody else, every game is so close and certainly two games against a division opponent when we're fighting for a spot are going to be critical.

"So, these games are critical, tonight's critical for sure."

How critical?

Detroit's season could be hanging in the balance.

PRICE HAS ELEVATED CANADIENS: It's no coincidence that Montreal's three-game winning streak coincides with the return of Price, a superstar goalie.

Price had missed 10 games with a lower-body injury before returning to the net on November 25, where he recorded his first shutout of the season, blanking Buffalo in Montreal's 3-0 victory.

Since his return, Price has stopped 100 of the 102 shots he's faced in three games played.

He is again showing why it's not a stretch to say, "As Carey Price goes, so go the Montreal Canadiens."

Price started the season slowly and there was talk that perhaps the former NHL MVP and former Vezina Trophy winner's game was showing signs of deterioration.

His overall numbers this year may appear ordinary, a 6-7-1 record with a goals-against average of 3.08 and a .902 save percentage, but Blashill knows Price has lost nothing.

"I just watched the game the other night, it didn't look like he lost anything," Blashill said on Wednesday. "When there's attention every single day and people have a dip, there's a tendency to overreact a little bit and I think there's lots of overreaction in Montreal about Carey's Price's game.

"His game looks great., Everybody ebbs and flows. He probably ebbed a little bit. I hope he struggles against us but I'm not planning on that. I'm planning on him playing great and us finding a way to score on him."

MANTHA JACKED TO PLAY MONTREAL: With the Canadiens in town, Detroit's Anthony Mantha, who grew up in the Montreal suburb of Longueuil, is the media darling of the French-Canadian press.

Mantha has conducted countless interviews over the past few days in his native French and Blashill has been asked dozens of questions about the Wings' budding star.

It's apparent Mantha gets psyched when he plays the Canadiens. He scored his first NHL goal against Montreal with his grandfather, former Red Wings/Canadiens great Andre Pronovost, in attendance.

In six career games against Montreal, Mantha has three goals and four penalty minutes.

"Against Montreal I am (excited to play), just because it's a hometown team," Mantha said. "It's always fun to play against them. I probably don't know every stat on the top of my head but I know against Montreal it's been good.

"I'll just enjoy the moment obviously. My parents are here right now and they'll be driving back to Montreal, I'll see my friends for dinner tomorrow night. It's just a pleasant time and I'm enjoying it."

INJURY UPDATE: Blashill said defenseman Trevor Daley (neck) and forward Martin Frk (groin) will be game-time decisions for Thursday's lineup.

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