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Bruins Visit Montreal With First Place At Stake

Coming off a 3-2 loss in Buffalo last night, the Bruins journey to the Bell Centre to visit the slumping Canadiens, in a battle for first place in the Northeast.  The Bruins have lost two straight, but "Les Glorieux" have dropped three in a row.  The Bruins are 2 points back of Montreal in the Northeast, with two games in hand, and can move into a tie for the division lead with a regulation win.

The Bruins enter the game relatively healthy; Mark Stuart is out with a wrist injury, but that's all.  For the Canadiens, Jaroslav Spacek and Scott Gomez had been day to day with injuries, but both played last night against Philadelphia, so one would expect them back in the lineup.  Andrei Markov, however, is done for the season. 

Both teams are dealing with a bit of controversy when it comes to young stars.  Tyler Seguin was a healthy scratch last night against Buffalo, in favor of Daniel Paille.  Seguin had been getting over the flu, but skated with the team in warmups and was ready to go, so the decision came as a bit of a surprise.  On the other side, P.K. Subban, a preseason contender for the Calder Trophy, has been a healthy scratch in a few recent games.  Subban alternated between good and dreadful last night against Philadelphia, so the youngster may not have gotten the message just yet. 

Another place where these two ancient rivals share common ground is in net; both have gotten phenomenal goaltending this season, and Tim Thomas and Carey Price are the early leaders for the Vezina Trophy right now.   Price is 17-9-2 with a 2.07 GAA and .931 save percentage, with a 17.2 GVT, second only to Thomas at 23.0.  Price has shown himself more than worthy of the confidence Montreal management placed in him when they traded playoff hero Jaroslav Halak.  But he comes off one of his worst outings of the season, in which he gave up five goals to the Flyers, and he's on a Brodeur-esque workrate, having backstopped the Habs in 28 of their 31 games so far, putting him on pace for 74 starts.  Price was tremendous when these teams met on November 11 in Boston, stopping 34 of 35 shots, and earning first-star status.  Expect Price and Thomas in net tonight.

Shutting down the Canadiens attack will mean holding down their #1 line of Mike Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn.  Those three are the Canadiens' top three scorers, combining for 29 of the team's 81 goals.  Cammalleri is a particular threat on the power play, where he has 4 of his 10 goals (and Kostitsyn has 3 of his 9).  Brian Gionta is also sometimes on the wing with Plekanec, and is fourth on the team with 19 points. Kostitsyn has struggled of late, with just 2 points in his last 7 games, and began last night's game on the third line, before moving back to the first.  When he struggled, Benoit Pouliot replaced him on the line. 

The Habs recently called up 2007 first round pick Max Pacioretty, who made his season debut against the Flyers, and he has been skating on the top line in practice at times.  He will probably work on the second line with Scott Gomez and Gionta.

On defense, Roman Hamrlik, one of the more unremarkable #1 overall picks in NHL history (1992 to Tampa Bay, if you're curious, sandwiched between Eric Lindros and uber-bust Alexandre Daigle), has 15 points on the season, and rates a +9.  He also is Montreal's second-best skater by GVT, at 5.0, behind only Plekanec at 5.9.  At 36, when he should be slowing down, Hamrlik is having one of his best seasons to date. Jaroslav Spacek had missed some time, but is back in the lineup.  Hamrlik and Subban are Montreal's best threats on the offensive end, as Spacek's once-impressive offensive skills have faded with age.  Josh Gorges and old friend Hal Gill are stay-at-home types, as is journeyman Alexandre Picard.

Power play goals will be hard to come by in this game.  The Habs are 1st in penalty killing at 88.7%.  The Bruins are 4th at 85.9%.  Both teams are slightly above average on the man advantage, with the Habs 11th in the league at 18.3% and the Bruins 13th at 17.8%. The Bruins surrendered 2 power play goals to Buffalo last night, and will need to tighten up in that department.

Another place where the Bruins must improve is discipline.  Milan Lucic has played with intensity this season, and paced the team with 7 hits last night, but a boarding penalty in the first period led to one Buffalo goal, and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the third killed any chances to tie it.  Andrew Ference also had a particularly dumb cross-checking penalty against Patrick Kaleta.  The Bruins will face one of the NHL's top agitators tonight in Maxim Laperriere, and although Laperriere often does his team more harm than good (59 PIM of his own), he'll be looking to bait the B's into dumb penalties at every opportunity, since he has no other hockey skills to speak of.

Tidbit that probably only I care about: the Rochester, NY-born Gionta is just the second American-born captain in Montreal franchise history.  Chris Chelios was a co-captain with Guy Carbonneau in 1989-90.

The puck drops at 7:30, and Bruins fans outside New England should be happy to know the game will be nationally televised on NHL Network.  Tonight's game also airs on NESN, as usual, and can be heard on 98.5 FM The Sports Hub.

For a view of tonight's game from the bad guys' point of view, check out Habs Eyes on the Prize.

The Public Skate open thread gets started at 6:30 PM ET.