Canadiens, Blue Jackets gird for wild card showdown

Canadiens, Blue Jackets gird for wild card showdown

The Montreal Canadiens have played 77 games to this point in the season, but according to forward Andrew Shaw, none was as important as No. 78.

“I think this is the biggest game of the year,” Shaw said of the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Thursday (7 p.m. ET, NHLN, FS-O, TSN2, RDS, NHL.TV). “Look at the standings.”

The Canadiens (41-28-8) hold the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of the Blue Jackets (42-30-4). Montreal is one point behind the Carolina Hurricanes (42-27-7) for the first wild card. The Blue Jackets and Hurricanes have each played 76 games, one fewer than the Canadiens.

“Every game is do or die for us right now,” Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno said Tuesday following a 4-0 win against the New York Islanders. “It’s fun. That’s what you’re looking for this time of the year. We’re looking forward to it. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, but obviously extra juice with the team that’s right there, neck and neck with us.

“We’ve got to come out with the same effort we did today and I’m fully confident we’ll have a great night and have a lot of fun doing it.”

Video: NYI@CBJ: Panarin beats Greiss on breakaway

The Canadiens have had fun lately, going 4-0-1 in their past five games, including a 6-1 win against the Florida Panthers at Bell Centre on Tuesday. But the Blue Jackets have won two straight — each a shutout by Sergei Bobrovsky — to stay in the hunt for the final wild card in the East.

“I think we’ve got a point in [each of] the last five? That’s huge right now,” Shaw said. “It just shows that we’re a character team. We’re going to work hard and compete. We’re going to earn our own spot in the playoffs and not rely on someone winning or losing.”

There will be at least one lineup change Thursday: the Canadiens will be without speedy forward Paul Byron, who sustained an upper-body injury in a fight with Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar. Byron, who has 30 points (15 goals, 15 assists) in 54 games and leads Montreal in shorthanded goals (two) and shorthanded points (three), did not travel to Columbus.

There was no update on Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski, who left in the third period against the Islanders on Tuesday because of an undisclosed injury.

A compelling storyline within the game should be the battle between Canadiens goalie Carey Price and Bobrovsky.

Price has played 24 of Montreal’s past 25 games and is 33-22-6 with a 2.49 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and four shutouts this season. He’s 9-3-1 with a 1.99 GAA against the Blue Jackets in his NHL career.

Video: FLA@MTL: Price sprawls to deny Hoffman

Bobrovsky has not allowed a goal in 159:25 and has three of his eight shutouts in the past four games. He’s 33-23-1 with a 2.62 average and .911 save percentage this season and is 9-6-1 with a 2.07 GAA against the Canadiens.

“I’m not feeling the pressure [of the playoff race],” Bobrovsky said Tuesday. “One game at a time, try to embrace it and have fun. The atmosphere gets more intense, the building gets more energized and it’s fun to be part of it.”

Price said, “Points are more important than confidence, but definitely moving forward, we’ll stick with the same mentality.”

Columbus coach John Tortorella wasn’t prepared to gauge the Blue Jackets’ confidence level after the victory Tuesday, two days after a 5-0 win at the Vancouver Canucks.

“I don’t know, I don’t even go in to see them after the game, they don’t want to see me in there,” said Tortorella, 0-2-0 against Montreal this season. “They should feel good about themselves. But the important thing is, we’ve got a team that’s streaking coming in here in Montreal.

“I trust that they’re going to keep it level here. We won a couple games but we haven’t gained on Montreal. We gained a point the other night but didn’t gain tonight, so we’ve got to keep on banging away here.”

Canadiens forward Tomas Tatar didn’t need anyone to remind him of the importance of the next game.

“It’s going to be a big challenge to play in their barn,” said Tatar, whose two goals and one assist Tuesday gave him an NHL career-high 57 points (25 goals, 32 assists) this season. “It’s going to be huge. Hopefully, we’ll approach it the right way and play with confidence. When we play like that, we’re a great team.”

Video: FLA@MTL: Shaw sets up Tatar from behind the net

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