Habs get set to face desperate defending champs


It's really sad that the Montreal Canadiens only face two of their Original Six rivals once a year. Such is the case with the Detroit Red Wings, and tonight's opponent, the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Canadiens will close out their regular season at home, in the Bell Centre, hosting the defending Stanley Cup champs. The Blackhawks are clearly a different team then last year, with several bodies no longer on the roster. Habs rearguard Brent Sopel is one of those missing from the Chicago club that picked up it's first Cup in 49 years last spring.

The 2010-11 edition of the Blackhawks is yet another desperate opponent, seeking a playoff spot in the NHL'sWestern Conference, that the Habs have faced in recent weeks. Chicago sits just a point ahead of the Calgary Flames for the eighth and playoff spot in the west. If they are unsuccessful in holding on, they would be the first team to fall from Cup champ to out of the playoffs since the Carolina Hurricanes did it in 2007.

Chicago has two games in hand over Calgary, which should give them an edge. Unfortunately their last two are against Detroit. Who knows, maybe the Red Wings will lie down in their final game on Sunday, similar to what they did in 1970, giving Chicago a chance to stay in.

The Canadiens have an easier mountain to climb in the Eastern Conference, either earning two points in their last three games themselves or wait for Carolina to lose any of their three remaining games.

Looking at the standings, based on position alone, would obvioulsy be misleading. The Blackhawks have a better overall record and their offense very formidable, sitting fourth in goals per game.

The most recent meeting in Chicago (October 2009)  saw the Blackhawks fire 36 shots at Carey Price in a 3-2 win , with Patrick Sharp netting the winner with 4:10 to play.

Even with their roster changed, and Sharp out for the last two weeks with a knee problem, the Blackhawks are sixth in shots per game (31.9). With that in mind, the Canadiens will want to play a complete game, as they did against the New Jersey Devils.

Part of that equation will fall on discipline. With the Blackhawks sitting second on the power play, foolish penalties by the Canadiens could put the game out of reach relatively fast. On the other side of the coin, Chicago is a dismal 79% on the penalty kill, so creating penalties could make things much easier for the home squad.

Between the pipes, Corey Crawford has started 23 straight games and has yet to face the Canadiens in his short career. The Blackhawks rookie is a very effective 14-6-5 on the road this season, and backs it up with a 2.23 GAA and .923 SvPct. Oh, and by the way, he was born in Montreal. We all know how hometown goalies typically love to shine against the Habs, right?

More on Crawford from the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune.

Price, the Canadiens Molson Cup winner for the season, will get the call for Montreal

The last time these clubs met in Montreal was March 31, 2009, with the home team taking a  4-1 victory. Only one player on the Canadiens, who factored in on the scoring in that game, is still on the roster. Unfortunately Andrei Markov will not be in the latest Bell Centre matchup for reasons we are all well aware of. Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn, Roman Hamrlik, Josh Gorges(also injured) and Price are the only other survivors from that game.

The Canadiens hold an all-time record of 176-54 against the Blackhawks with 48 ties.

 

Probable Blackhawks lineup

Forwards


LW Bryan Bickell, C Jonathan Toews, RW Patrick Kane


LW Viktor Stalberg, C Michael Frolik, RW Marian Hossa


LW Jake Dowell, C Ryan Johnson, RW Fernando Pisani


LW Tomas Kopecky, C Marcus Kruger, RW Troy Brouwer

Defense pairings

Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook; Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson; Chris Campoli, Nick Leddy

Goalies

Marty Turco, Corey Crawford

Blackhawks coverage from Second City Hockey

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