Rivalry Night on NBCSN: Canadiens, Bruins look to break Northeast tie

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Throughout the season, NBCSN will feature the NHL’s fiercest rivalries on Wednesday nights. Tonight the Montreal Canadiens will head to TD Garden for a match against the Boston Bruins at 7:30 p.m. ET.

The Bruins and Canadiens have spent the better part of the season battling for the Northeast Division title and that battle is far from resolved. Going into tonight’s contest, the two teams are tied with 45 points, although Montreal has played in one more game than Boston.

Both of these teams have gotten this far thanks to solid defense, strong goaltending, and an offensive core that’s shown its depth this season.

The fact that Boston is in this race isn’t much of a surprise. There was some concern that goaltender Tuukka Rask might not be able to seamlessly assume Tim Thomas’ starting duties, but after serving as a strong backup for years, Rask’s 2013 performance can’t be considered a shock.

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Instead, the Canadiens are the Cinderella story. They’ve benefited from the emergence of rookies Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, but when the season started, their core wasn’t dramatically different than the one that finished in the basement of the Eastern Conference in 2011-12.

Perhaps the biggest difference has been behind the bench, where Michel Therrien is now running the show. Under him, the Canadiens have gone from one of the worst power-play teams in the NHL to one of the best. Of course, having a finally healthy Andrei Markov join P.K. Subban as the team’s top two blueliners with the man advantage helps too.

Not many teams in the league can afford to take penalties against the Canadiens, but if there’s one that can endure, it’s Boston. The Bruins have a league-leading 91.7 penalty killing percentage.

These two teams have played each other twice this season and both contests were decided by a goal. It wouldn’t be surprising if tonight’s game ended up being just as close.

Probable goaltenders: BOS – Rask (15-4-3, 1.90 GAA, .928 SV%) | MON – Peter Budaj (4-1-1, 2.47 GAA, .903 SV%)

Top scorers: BOS – Patrice Bergeron (9-18-27, 31 GP) | MON – Max Pacioretty (9-16-25, 28 GP)

Notable Injuries:
Boston – Forwards: Chris Kelly (leg), Marc Savard (concussion) Defenseman: Adam McQuaid (shoulder), Johnny Boychuk (foot)
Montreal – Forwards: Brandon Prust (shoulder), Ryan White (lower body), Rene Bourque (concussion) Defenseman: Yannick Weber (knee), Raphael Diaz (concussion)

Zetterberg on pace to play 1,000th game in Joe Louis Arena farewell

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Barring injury, Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg will get the opportunity to make his 1,000th NHL game even more special.

Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill confirmed today that Zetterberg will play tonight and tomorrow in Carolina, putting the 36-year-old on pace to play his 1,000th game on Apr. 9, the date of the final Wings game at Joe Louis Arena.

The Wings, who will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, have eight games left in their regular season. They host New Jersey on Apr. 9.

Tonight’s game was originally scheduled for Dec. 19, but had to be postponed due to poor ice conditions at PNC Arena.

Isles sign Northeastern captain Stevens

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John Stevens, who just wrapped a four-year career at Northeastern University, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders, the club announced on Monday.

Stevens, 22, went undrafted but emerged as a valuable player for the Huskies, culminating with a senior season in which he served as captain and averaged better than a point per game (28 in 25 contests).

Stevens is the son of longtime L.A. Kings associate coach John Stevens, who formerly served as the bench boss in Philly.

A third member 0f the Stevens clan, Nolan, also played this season at Northeastern — his junior campaign — and was taken by St. Louis in the fifth round of last year’s draft.

McElhinney to start for Leafs tomorrow

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Curtis McElhinney will start in goal for the Maple Leafs when they host Florida tomorrow.

Which means Toronto’s regular starter, Frederik Andersen, will not.

Andersen, hurt Saturday in Buffalo, only lasted 20 minutes of practice this morning. The Toronto Star, citing a Leafs source, is reporting that Andersen “took a blow to his jaw from a player in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Sabres.”

McElhinney is 4-5-0 with a .919 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Leafs this season. He told reporters that tomorrow will be the biggest start of his NHL career.

It remains to be seen who will back up McElhinney against the Panthers. The Leafs have recalled goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL on an emergency basis. All three netminders were on the ice today.

Update:

Expect Sparks to be the back-up tomorrow.

Toronto has a three-point playoff cushion, with eight games remaining.

The Leafs also recalled forward Kasperi Kapanen, the 22nd overall draft pick in 2014. Kapanen, 20, has 18 goals and 25 assists in 43 games for the Marlies this season. He’s expected to replace Ben Smith on the fourth line, alongside Brian Boyle and Matt Martin.

Habs sign d-man Mete, who ‘does everything’ for junior team

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Victor Mete, Montreal’s fourth-round pick at last year’s draft, has signed his three-year, entry-level deal, the club announced on Monday.

Mete, 18, is in his third year with OHL powerhouse London, and finished this season with 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games. He’s developed a reputation as a terrific skater, and often plays alongside fellow Knights d-man Olli Juolevi, who the Canucks took fifth overall at last year’s draft.

London assistant coach Dylan Hunter had high praise for Mete this season.

“When it comes to little nuances of his game, stick on puck, knowing when to make a play and when there isn’t a play to just get it out, he’s one of the best there is right now,” Hunter said, per the London Free Press.

“He does everything for us.”

Mete has one year of junior eligibility remaining, so it’s likely he’ll be back in London next season. At 5-foot-10 and just 180 pounds, he’s undersized and could use another year of development before turning pro.