With three days of rest under their belt, the Habs are ready to fight for another season series sweep. If they can make that goal a reality, they'll be one step closer to completing an even more significant task.
The Habs are three for three against the Red Wings this season, holding the Wings to two total goals. The Red Wings may be an abysmal offensive team at even strength - their 135 goals on the year puts them between Philly and Edmonton in 25th place - but facing Carey Price, it's been even rougher going. Only one Red Wing, Henrik Zetterberg, has put a goal past CP31 at 5v5 this year.
Price will start for the Habs, hoping to give his team a stranglehold on the division title. While a first place finish would not necessarily earn the Canadiens a softer opponent, it would guarantee home-ice advantage through the second round. For a team whose home rink provides perhaps the greatest advantage in the league, that second Eastern seed may prove important against any of the Capitals, Penguins, Senators, Bruins, or the Islanders.
The final team still in play as a first round opponent for Montreal is the Red Wings, and if the Habs are to triumph, they'll have to find a way to do it minus one of their most important cogs. Max Pacioretty, the superstar winger relied on in all facets of the game, fell hard into the end boards against the Panthers on Sunday. In a decision all Habs fans are hoping is more precautionary than necessary, Wolverine won't be available for tonight`s clash.
The Red Wings may not be dangerous in the o-zone, but the Habs aren't much better. Tonight, they`ll have to find a way to make due with a lineup lacking their most threatening attacker.
How to Watch
Tale of the Tape
|48.8||Score-Adjusted Fenwick %||52.4|
|1.19||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.04|
Know Your Enemy
Despite being one of the league's least productive offences at even strength, the Red Wings are in the top 10 in team scoring overall. For context, one need look no further than their lethal powerplay. With 63 markers on the season, no team has scored as many goals as Mike Babcock's boys have when their opponent is down a man.
Thankfully, for Montreal, a couple of the Red Wings' most used powerplay weapons may not be available tonight. Justin Abdelkader, he of a career-high 23 goals on the season, hurt his hand, and is touch-and-go for tonight's game. Abdelkader has played just under 200 minutes on the powerplay this season, often as a first unit member of Detroit`s four forward, one defender powerplay configuration. With no broken bones, however, and his team not quite assured of a playoff berth, there is a fair chance that Abdelkader goes tonight.
Tomas Jurco`s situation is not so certain. The 22-year-old Slovak is almost certain not to play tonight, depriving the Wings of their next most popular player on the man advantage, and one of their better depth scorers. His impossibly low shooting percentage, of 2.5% at even strength, has left him with an unspectacular 18 points this year, but only two of his teammates have generated more scoring chances this season.
Finally, trade deadline acquisition Erik Cole will not suit up tonight, nor will he for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs. Cole suffered a spine contusion, and has elected to shut it down for the rest of the year. The veteran scorer joins Johan Franzen, who hasn't played since early January, on the IR.
Last Time Out
The last game between Montreal and Detroit looked a lot like the other two. It was a hotly-contested, low scoring affair, broken open by the Habs in the third period.
Tonight's starter, Jimmy Howard, had made 27 shots through the first 57 minutes of the game, but it was Montreal's 28th shot that broke through. Tomas Plekanec weaved in and scored on a slap shot, capitalizing on a Dale Weise pass that was blind luck or extrasensory perception, depending on who you ask.
The Habs held on from there, winning two defensive zone faceoffs and preventing the Wings from any serious attempts at a tying goal. When Max Pacioretty put the puck into an empty net, the game was over.
That goal was Patches' 26th of the year, and with his untimely injury, he will get no further than the 37 he has amassed to date. Pacioretty may not have been given the chance to control his own destiny when it came to an important milestone, but for the Habs and Wings, those opportunities are still on the table.
With only two chances left to strengthen their hand, the Canadiens would be wise to do whatever they can to get the win.