Canadiens aim to lock up playoff spot vs. Bruins

By Anthony Giornalista
Stats Senior Writer

Montreal (41-29-10) at Boston (51-18-10) 7:00 p.m. EDT

BOSTON (AP) — The last time the Boston Bruins finished first in
the Eastern Conference, they were eliminated by Montreal in the
opening round of the playoffs.

Even if the Canadiens make this year’s postseason, they don’t
appear to be much of an upset threat.

The Bruins, mostly concerned with staying healthy down the
stretch, look to keep their struggling longtime rivals from
clinching a postseason spot Thursday night.

Boston (51-18-10) has secured the top seed in the East, but its
first-round opponent has yet to be determined. The Bruins
finished first in 2001-02, only to be stunned in six games by
eighth-seeded Montreal.

The Canadiens (41-29-10) were the top seed last season and beat
first-round opponent Boston in seven games before being
eliminated by Philadelphia. Now, the Canadiens are just hoping
to find a way into the postseason after hurting their chances
with two straight losses.

Montreal, which has a one-point lead over the eighth-place New
York Rangers, can earn a playoff spot with a win or by forcing
overtime. The Canadiens can back into the postseason if
ninth-place Florida loses one of its final two games.

“We can’t get upset and pack it in now,” said Montreal
goaltender Carey Price, whose team concludes the regular season
at home against Pittsburgh on Saturday night. “It’s too
important. The good news is, we get another chance to clinch.”

The Canadiens, though, have totaled three goals in their last
two contests and have been held to two or fewer in each of their
last four games against the Bruins.

Boston is 7-0-1 at home after losing its previous three, but had
a six-game winning streak snapped in a 3-2 loss at Ottawa on
Tuesday night.

Phil Kessel’s return didn’t help the Bruins overcome the
Senators, who beat the Canadiens 3-2 on Monday night. The
third-year winger played after missing five games with an
undisclosed injury and scored his team-leading 32nd goal.

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Defenseman Andrew Ference, however, missed the game due to an
undisclosed injury and is out for the rest of the regular
season. Winger P.J. Axelsson and defenseman Dennis Wideman also
remained in Boston due to undisclosed injuries, and their status
for Thursday is uncertain.

“That’s what we’re trying to accomplish here is get a healthy
team together,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “We’ve got some
guys … that are hopefully going in that direction, and this is
the luxury that I guess we have right now.”

Montreal is also dealing with health issues, as it’s expected to
be without top defensemen Andrei Markov (knee) and Mathieu
Schneider (shoulder) for the rest of the regular season. Both
players were hurt in a victory over Toronto on Saturday night,
and the Canadiens haven’t won since.

Montreal lost 3-1 to the Rangers on Tuesday night despite
getting Price back in net. The All-Star made 41 saves after
missing three games due to the flu but gave up a soft goal early
in the second period.

Price bounced a pass off the skate of teammate Josh Gorges,
allowing Nik Andropov to dive and poke the puck in.

“We can’t get upset and pack it in now,” Price said. “It’s too
important. The good news is, we get another chance to clinch.
It’s too bad it didn’t work out tonight.”

Price struggled in his last game at Boston, making 25 saves in a
6-1 loss November 13.

The Bruins have won the last four matchups with the Canadiens
this season after dropping the first two in shootouts. They had
lost the previous 10 meetings in regulation.