Preview: Jets at Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens have found their stride at just the right time, winning seven times in their past nine games entering Thursday’s home contest against the Winnipeg Jets. Montreal finds itself eight points clear in the race to clinch a playoff spot and, after Tuesday’s 4-1 home triumph over Anaheim, the Canadiens admit they know their rise in the standings needs to happen now.
“It’s something you look forward to when you show up to training camp, where you want to be in the contention or with the top teams in the league,” Montreal forward Jonathan Drouin told reporters after the Canadiens recorded their 30th victory of the season Tuesday. “We’ve got to keep building on this and make sure we get to 40, maybe 50, and keep going.” The Jets also have piled up wins in bunches of late, but fell victim to a turnover in overtime Tuesday that led to San Jose scoring a short-handed game-winning goal as Winnipeg fell 3-2 on home ice. The one point earned pulled the Central Division leaders within two points of Western Conference front-runner Calgary as goaltender Connor Hellebuyck made several outstanding saves en route to stopping 35 shots. “Made some unbelievable saves,” Jets forward Blake Wheeler said postgame in describing Hellebuyck’s outing. “It’s too bad we couldn’t get the job done because he had an incredible effort tonight.”
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, TSN3 (Winnipeg), TSN2, RDS (Montreal)
ABOUT THE JETS (34-16-3): Wheeler, whose 54 assists rank second in the NHL, scored for the second game in a row Tuesday and extended his point streak to four contests. There continues to be concern around forward Patrik Laine, who has just one goal in his past 15 games and only four in 29 games since the end of November - a month in which the 20-year-old scored 18 times in 12 games. Hellebuyck allowed three goals for the fourth consecutive outing but is 7-2-1 in his past 10 appearances.
ABOUT THE CANADIENS (30-18-6): Forward Brendan Gallagher powered the Montreal offense Tuesday, scoring twice to give him a team-high 21 on the season, and the Canadiens scored at least four goals for the fourth time during their current 7-1-1 stretch. Drouin has seven points (two goals) in his past five games, picking up three assists against Anaheim. Carey Price stopped 24-of-25 shots Tuesday, improving to 6-0-0 with a .957 save percentage and a 1.33 goals against average in his past six starts.
1. Winnipeg expects D Dustin Byfuglien to return to the lineup Thursday after he missed 15 games with a left ankle injury.
2. Montreal C Jesperi Kotkaniemi has scored goals in each of the last three games, giving the 18-year-old rookie five goals in his past nine contests.
3. Jets D Josh Morrissey played just 3:45 due to a lower-body injury sustained in the first period Tuesday, but Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said Wednesday he hopes Morrissey can play Thursday.
PREDICTION: Jets 2, Canadiens 1