Habs look to avoid Cane-ing as they host Carolina

Maybe I'm being being a little bit over-dramatic, but tonight may just be the biggest game of Carey Price's young career. At least so far.

Price will be in goal as the Canadiens host the Carolina Hurricanes. Based on how he performs - or rather the end result of the game, regardless of his performance - this may be the last time he sees the ice as the starting goaltender for the Canadiens in the 2009-10 season.

It's clear as day that the Canadiens have decided to go with Jaroslav Halak as their number one goaltender heading into the playoffs, and I believe that most Habs fans have accepted this as a fact, despite some fairly heated Price vs. Halak debates from earlier in the season. So with only six games remaining in the regular season, and with a first round playoff series that will be an uphill battle no matter who the face, the Canadiens will look to solidify their goaltending and douse any potential ''controversies'' so that who ever is in goal can get into playoff mode.

But let's talk hypothetical for a moment. What if Carey Price has another stellar performance tonight and actually manages to get a victory for the Habs? What if Jacques Martin decides to play Price against one of this weekend's back-to-back games versus either the Flyers on Friday, or the Sabres on Saturday? What if Price has another stellar outing? What if Jaroslav Halak is cold in his next couple of starts, and Price is suddenly the go-to guy?

Judging on how this season has gone through 76 games, the odds of all these things happening are next to nothing. Nevertheless, it's something to think about, and it's something that I'm sure Jacques Martin had on his brain while making the decision to start Price tonight. Because win or lose, the Canadiens played fairly well this past weekend. Win or lose, Halak had nearly four days rest, and will go another two at least without any game action. And Price is angry and looking for retribution after what happened against the Sabres.

Could the Canadiens be looking to change things up with only a few games remaining in the regular season? Could they be looking to have both their goaltenders at their best heading into the playoffs? Or is this really Price's last predetermined go as the starting goaltender before the reigns are officially handed to Halak (for now)?

When most of us thought the goaltending queries had been answered, I look above and see 6 or 7 question marks.

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THE CAROLINA HURRICANES

Believe it or not, it's been since mid-December since the Habs last faces off against the Hurricanes. The game, played in Carolina, ended up in a 5-1 dusting of the then last place Canes. Glen Metropolit scored 2 goals, both Kostitsyns got on the board and Andre Markov scored in one of his first games back. Moreover, both Scott Gomez and Tomas Plekanec got on the board with 3 assists each.

The game was indicative of how both the Canadiens AND Hurricanes seasons had been going up to that point. While the Habs had been up and done all year, when somewhat healthy, they could be dominant. As for the Canes, their season was already seemingly done.

But things change.

Only three months later, the Hurricanes have climbed a whopping 4 spots in the standings and stand are 9 points out of the playoffs. They won't make it, but considering where they were and how they've managed to climb back, especially AFTER selling some pieces of their roster at the deadline, it's an incredible feat.

As for the Canadiens, they are once again healthy, but they are struggling. While their six game win streak from a couple of weeks ago have given them the comfort of a 6-2-2 record in their last ten, every single one of those four losses have come over the course of the last five games. They have struggles, given up or just nearly given up leads and have seemingly reverted to their old ways, after being the hottest team in the league through the first few weeks of March.

Now they are fresh, lucky enough to have three days off in the stretch run of the season, and their line-up nearly completely intact.

Tonight, there are no excuses if they lose. They simply need to win, and as Scott Gomez put it, tonight needs to be played as if it's the Canadiens final game of the season, and their playoff lives depend on whether or not they win. They need to play these final six games with a sense of urgency.

But it won't be easy, no matter what you think of the Canes. In what seems to have become a trend among goaltenders who play against the Habs, Cam Ward is 9-3-2 lifetime against the Canadiens, and will look to make it an even 10 tonight after missing 18 games with an upper body injury over the last couple of months.

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NEWS AND NOTES

- As most of you know by know, doctors have diagnosed Glen Metropolit with a separated left shoulder, and he is slated to miss a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks. Metro is determined to return long before that, but the truth is that he's likely played his last game as a Montreal Canadien. Jacques Martin has confirmed that he will NOT play another game during the regular season, but will seek a second opinion this week.

- The Montreal Canadiens have signed Cornell Big Red defenseman Brendon Nash to a two year contract starting in the 2010-11 season. The 23 year old defenseman is 6'3'' 206lbs and led his team in scoring by a defenseman with 19 points in 33 games. He participated in the Canadiens development camp last year.

- Finally, after randomly being shifted to the 4th line for Monday's practice, Benoit Pouliot is back with his normal linemates in Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez, and will likely play tonight. Most of the line-up, other than Glen Metropolit's replacement, is likely to stay intact.

The puck drops at 7PM tonight, and the game is on both RDS and TSN. If the Habs come out swinging early and often, this one should be a fairly easy victory. Then again, the Habs don't exactly have a history of making things easy on themselves.

Enjoy the game!

Prax
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