Habs Host Blackhawks in Last Home Game of the Season

Today's crappy weather notwithstanding, there's a certain feeling in the air here in Montreal lately. The girls are starting to dress lighter. Douchebags are taking their loud, obnoxious cars out for a spin. Habs flags are starting to pop up on cars everwhere. Gas prices are up yet again - THANKS A LOT GADHAFI - And that homeless man who seems intent on washing my windshield with his dirty rag is back.

This can only mean two things, my friends. It's finally spring time in the city, and the Montreal Canadiens are gearing up for the playoffs!

Of course, with the way they've been playing on the ice, you wouldn't really know it was the case. But nevertheless, there are but three games left on the schedule before the Canadiens and all their inconsistencies - as well as their redeeming qualities, whatever they might be - are put to the test against one of five possible teams yet to be decided.

As we discussed yesterday, depending on these next three games as well as positioning from other teams, the Canadiens could still face the Boston Bruins, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Washington Capitals, the Pittsburgh Penguins or (long shot) the Tampa Bay Lightning. And of course, they've yet to *officially* clinch a playoff spot, but their decent run last week of two wins and a loss has put them in a solid position. It really shouldn't have taken this long for the Canadiens to get their act together, but we'll let it slide and focus on the positive for once, and that's what's likely to be a great game against the Chicago Blackhawks tonight.

The Hawks roll into Montreal in a fairly surprising position. Many expected them to have a Stanley Cup Hangover after winning hockey's biggest prize last spring, especially after they traded a few key pieces, such as Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, now playing in Atlanta, but I'm not sure anyone expected them to be struggling to even make the playoffs. They currently sit in 8th place in the West with 92 points, only one point ahead of the Calgary Flames, three ahead of the Dallas Stars, the only two teams left in contention behind them. Everyone ahead of them, from Anaheim in 7th place to Phoenix in 4th with 96 points, is still within reach, and they have a game in hand on everyone, two on Calgary, who's keeping the hope lantern dimly lit.

Needless to say, while it's not looking TOO bad for the Hawks, and they've been playing good hockey recently, it's pretty obvious which team will be more desperate for two points tonight. And if Habs fans know anything, it's that when the opposing team wants it more than their Canadiens, they're likely to win.

One can only hope that with the confidence gained from a good win Saturday night against the Devils, which knocked New Jersey officially out of playoff contention, will translate into a good, solid hockey game between these two teams and at least a point needed to ensure the Habs' place in the post-season. Anything after that would be gravy.

WHO'S HOT

Despite a 2-5-0 performance in his last ten games, with less than Vezina-worthy stats, Carey Price is perennially hot. He will set a franchise record 71st start tonight, right after he accepts the Molson Cup as the fan's favorite player. Mathieu Darche is coming off a 2-goal performance Saturday night, with Brian Gionta assisting on both. Darche has already set career highs in the NHL, while Gionta is still four goals away from that elusive 30-goal plateau. PK Subban has scored in his last two games.

For the Hawks, Patrick Kane has 23 points in his last 20 games, and that includes eight multi-point performances as well as a seven game point streak.

WHO'S NOT

The Hawks have plenty of players who will be looking to score tonight. Jonathan Toews is pointless in his last three, Michael Frolik in his last four, and Brian Campbell in six since coming back from an injury. Thomas Kopecky only has one point in his last eight. After a hot start, Troy Brouwer only has two points since mid-February.

For the Canadiens, the once-dynamic-duo of Benoit Pouliot and David Desharnais is pointless in their last six, since they had a three point night in Minnesota over two weeks ago, and they desperately need to get going to balance out the scoring. Andrei Kostitsyn only has a goal in his last six.

GAME PLAN

The Hawks are a great team, but the Canadiens can match and even exceed their speed. If they try to play defensively, they're going to get burned by a vastly superior offensive team. They're going to have to go blow for blow with Chicago, let Price do his thing and catch Corey Crawford by surprise. But of course, asking the Canadiens to play anything but defensively is madness. Just give us a good game Jacques. PLEASE?

Prediction: Hawks 4 - Habs 3 in OT

----------------------------------
Enjoy the game, and check back tomorrow for Steph's recap. Leave your thoughts and predictions in the comments below!