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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.

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.


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