Two Original Six teams fighting for the eighth and final playoff spot in their respective conferences hook up Tuesday when the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks travel to Montreal
to meet the Canadiens. The puck drops at Montreal’s Bell Centre at 4:30 p.m. (PT).
Chicago continued its trend of alternating wins and losses in its last six games with Sunday’s 2-0 setback against Tampa Bay as a hefty 195 home favorite. The combined two goals dipped below the 5 ½-goal closing total, leaving the ‘under’ 7-1 in Chicago last eight games and 42-36 overall.
The loss left the Blackhawks one point ahead of Calgary for the Western Conference’s eighth and last playoff spot. However, the Flames have played two more games than Chicago.
Despite the setback, Chicago’s defense was stingy, limiting the Lightning to 15 shots. That matched a March 8 effort against the Carolina Hurricanes for fewest shots allowed in a game this season.
Corey Crawford stopped 14-of-15 shots (one empty net goal), but suffered the loss. The 26-year-old netminder is now 31-17-2-3 with a 2.27 GAA, a .918 save percentage and four shutouts.
Chicago, which has now been blanked in three of its last eight games, still ranks third in the league offensively by averaging 3.1 goals per game. Much of that offensive success can be attributed to the league’s second-best power play that is clicking at a 23.9 percent success rate.
However, Chicago’s penalty killing unit ranks a poor 25th with a 79.4 percent success rate. That poor special teams play has dragged down the defense, which ranks 12th at 2.7 goals against per game.
Joel Quenneville’s Blackhawks are 19-12-3-5 on enemy ice, with the ‘over’ going 20-19. They have outscored the opposition overall by 32 goals (246-214).
Montreal moved one tiny step closer to clinching a playoff berth without leaving the couch Sunday.
The Canadiens received some help when the Buffalo Sabres edged Carolina 2-1 in overtime. While the ninth-place Hurricanes picked up a point for the overtime loss, they are four points behind the sixth-place Canadiens with each team having three games to play.
The only way the Hurricanes can finish ahead of the Canadiens is if they win their three remaining games and the Canadiens lose their three final games.
If the season ended on Monday, the Canadiens would open the playoffs in Boston, but all of the first-round pairings can change over the final week of the regular season.
The Canadiens have 91 points and are one point ahead of Buffalo and two up on the New York Rangers with everyone having three games to play.
Jacques Martin’s Habs are off Saturday’s 3-1 victory against New Jersey as 115 road underdogs. The win lifted Montreal 12 games above .500 despite outscoring the opposition by just four goals (208-204).
The combined four goals ducked below the five-goal closing total, enabling the ‘under’ to improve to 44-26-9 in Montreal’s first 79 overall outings. The Habs are 23-11-3-3 on their home ice, with the ‘under’ going 18-15-7.
This is the lone meeting of the season between Chicago and Montreal. The Habs are 5-2 in the last seven overall matchups and 4-0 in the last four meetings at Bell Centre. The ‘over’ is 4-1-1 in the last six meetings in Montreal.
The Don Best Sports injury report lists Montreal defenseman Alexandre Picard (foot) and center Jeff Halpern (lower body) as “questionable.” Chicago’s Patrick Sharp (knee) is not expected to return to the lineup until mid-April).
Chicago returns home Wednesday for a matchup against the St. Louis Blues, then concludes the regular season with a home-and-home series against the Detroit Red Wings. Montreal finishes with road games against Ottawa and Toronto on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.