At this point of the season, when every game counts, this will be as close as a game can get to the playoffs standards. Both teams are desperate for a win to get some breathing room in a really tight late-season playoff run and it remains to be seen, which team is more desperate than the other. Going by the recent Habs history (4-6-0 in last 10), Montreal tends to lose the games when the other team shows more desperation and the Blackhawks (5-4-1 in last 10) are coming off a 2-0 defeat against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday, their second shutout lose in three games. The Hawks also have not won a match in regulation in their previous five games.
This will be the first and the only time the original six rivals will be meeting each other in the current regular season. Their previous encounter in the 2009-2010 season resulted in a win for the Blackhawks when Patrick Sharp scored the game winning goal and Cristobal Huet made 20 saves in a 3-2 Blackhawks victory. The Blackhawks have not won a match in Montreal since the 2001-2002 season when ex-Hab Jocelyn Thibault was the victorious netminder for the Hawks. Their previous game in Montreal was played on the 31st of March 2009, the winning netminder, Carey Price, ended the game with 28 saves and Guillaume Latendresse scored the game winning goal in a 4-1 Habs win.
The Blackhawks will be relying on the 26 year old rookie goaltender Corey Crawford, who will be returning to his native Montreal and will be starting in his 24th straight game. According to coach Quenneville, Crawford "is doing everything right". His 31 wins and 2.27 GAA are best among rookies, and his .918 save percentage is tied for second. In his 23 consecutive starts so far, Crawford has allowed the Hawks to go from the 11th position in the Western Conferene to the final playoff spot, within 4 points of the fourth spot in the conference (the Phoenix Coyotes). The Hawks are followed closely by the Calgary Flames who are only one point behind Chicago but have played two more games than the Hawks. It should be noted that Chicago boasts of having a very decent away record (19-12-8) this season.
Jonathan Toews (75 points), Patrick Kane (69) and Patrick Sharp (68 points) have been stellar for the Hawks this season. While Kane is also on a hot streak and has accumulated four points in his last four games, Patrick Sharp has been out of the lineup with a left knee injury for the last two weeks. The defending Stanley Cup team has gone through a major roster overhaul since the last season in an attempt to be compliant with the salary cap but their young stars have produced well for them. On the defensive side, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith have contributed tremendously to the Hawks offense recording 43 and 42 points respectively.
The Montreal Canadiens will rely on Carey Price for the 71st time this season as they attempt to secure the crucial two points in the standings. Price, who was acknowledged yesterday as the best player of the team this season and was awarded the Molson Cup for the 2011 season, has recorded 36 wins so far with a 2.39GAA and a .921 SV%.
Montreal is also coming off a rewarding win against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night when Mathieu Darche scored twice to lead his team to a 3-1 victory. Darche, playing alongside Gionta and Gomez, has done his best to fill the hole left open by the injury to Max Pacioretty, after returning from a lower body injury of his own. Montreal will be missing Alex Picard (foot injury) and may also be missing Jeff Halpern (lower body injury). Yannick Weber might make a return to the game tonight but nothing has been acknowledged by the headcoach Jacques Martin. If Weber returns to the game, chances are that Paul Mara will be left on the sidelines. Weber's return can bring much needed speed to the Habs defensive lineup.
Notably, this will be the last regular season home-game for the Montreal Canadiens and they will be heading out for a matchup against the Ottawa Senators and end the season with a traditional game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The puck drops at 7:30PM EST and the match is televised on RDS and TSN regional.