Blackhawks-Canadiens Preview

BY foxsports • January 13, 2016

The Chicago Blackhawks sat 13 points out of the Central Division lead 2 1/2 weeks ago prior to a run that has them on the verge of reaching the top.

It's been quite the opposite situation for the Montreal Canadiens lately.

Chicago seeks a ninth victory in a row when it begins a road-heavy stretch against slumping Montreal in the first of two meetings in four days Thursday night.

The Blackhawks (28-13-4) lost 4-0 at Central-leading Dallas on Dec. 22 as their deficit in the division reached double digits, and they came out of the holiday break with a 2-1 home loss to Carolina five days later to drop even further back.

They've taken advantage of Dallas' current rough patch, though, and can tie for the Central lead with a win over the Canadiens (23-17-3). Chicago's 3-2 win over Nashville on Tuesday completed a perfect four-game homestand and matched their longest winning streak since a franchise-record 11-game run Feb. 22-March 6, 2013.

Coach Joel Quenneville received a contract extension through 2019-20 earlier in the day, then matched Al Arbour for second in career victories with 782.

"We went (into Dallas) before Christmas there, (and) had to win to even think of closing the gap," Quenneville said. "They beat us, and (it was like), 'OK, that's a distant thought.'

"Things change quickly in our division, in our league and in our game. All of the sudden, we've put ourselves in a much better spot. You're thinking playoff spot, (and) now you're thinking first place."

Marian Hossa celebrated his 37th birthday by assisting on both of Andrew Shaw's goals, and Corey Crawford made 41 saves. The Montreal native has won his last five starts with a 1.58 goals-against average.

''Everyone's playing well together as a team,'' Crawford said. ''Making the right plays. We're not making too many mistakes out there in all three zones. I think our team is very well-rounded right now.''

Crawford is 3-0-2 with a 1.38 GAA in his career against his hometown team, and the Blackhawks have won the last three meetings with Montreal. Chicago is beginning a stretch of playing nine of 11 on the road, with one of the rare home games coming Sunday against the Canadiens.

Even a split of those meetings likely would give Montreal a bit of a boost. It held an 11-point lead in the Atlantic on Dec. 2 but has since gone 4-13-0, falling to third behind Florida and Detroit.

Coach Michel Therrien said that Carey Price, the reigning Hart and Vezina Trophy winner who hasn't played since Nov. 25, would not return until after the All-Star break because of a lower-body injury.

Rookie Mike Condon has done his best to fill in but is 3-8-0 with a 2.64 GAA in 11 starts and two relief appearances during Montreal's slump. He won his previous three starts before making 29 saves in Saturday's 3-1 loss to Pittsburgh.

''He played awesome,'' forward Max Pacioretty said. ''We have to be better in front of him. He shut the door. A lot of big saves."

The Canadiens have dealt with a bit of a distraction this week after Alex Galchenyuk's girlfriend was arrested early Sunday morning for a domestic violence-related incident involving Galchenyuk, who chose not to file a complaint.

Fellow Montreal forward Devante Smith-Pelly also was at the apartment. The two met with general manager Marc Bergevin and Therrien on Tuesday, but teammates said the matter was being handled internally and each participated in practice.

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