With Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane out until the playoffs, some unlikely contributors have helped the Chicago Blackhawks stay in the hunt for home-ice advantage in the first round.
Keeping pace could prove to be a bigger challenge with a visit from the red-hot Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night.
The Blackhawks (45-19-15) are likely headed for a first-round series with Colorado, but with the Avalanche extending to a four-point lead in the race for second place in the Central Division, Chicago needs to win this game to stay alive for home ice. Colorado will have a game in hand following Wednesday's slate of games.
Chicago dropped four of six after losing Kane to a lower-body injury March 20 against St. Louis, and the outlook only worsened when Toews left the club's March 30 tilt at Pittsburgh with an upper-body injury.
However, the Blackhawks have responded with three straight wins without their second- and third-leading scorers, including a 4-2 home victory over the Western Conference-leading Blues on Sunday.
Rookie Jeremy Morin, recalled from the club's AHL affiliate after Kane got hurt, has two goals and two assists over the last three games after getting one of each against St. Louis. Morin assisted on Patrick Sharp's go-ahead goal in the second period, his team-high 33rd of the season.
Chicago also received goals from fourth-year forwards Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith, who scored for the third straight game after tallying three goals in his previous 21 contests.
"Obviously we miss Kane and Toews in the lineup and a few other guys, but when we have everybody playing hard and contributing, it helps," defenseman Duncan Keith told the team's website.
The Canadiens (45-27-7), trying to hold off Tampa Bay for second place in the Atlantic, are 10-2-0 since March 15 while averaging 3.7 goals. They had been tied for 23rd in the league with 2.4 per game through their first 67 contests.
Max Pacioretty has keyed the offensive surge with nine goals and six assists over the last 10 games. He's tied for third in the league with a career-high 39 goals.
Pacioretty's goal Saturday helped Montreal take a 3-0 lead after two periods against Detroit, but the Red Wings scored three straight in the first 10:44 of the third. Brian Gionta answered with his second goal of the game, and Alex Galchenyuk scored to close out a 5-3 victory.
The Canadiens could soon be even stronger, with alternate captain Josh Gorges practicing Monday and set to return soon after being out since March 5 with a hand injury. He's third among the team's defensemen in average ice time and with a plus-7 rating.
"The guys played unbelievable hockey these couple of weeks. Watching the games, you see the commitment to detail and the perseverance," Gorges told the team's website.
Andrei Markov had both of Montreal's goals in a 2-1 overtime victory over the Blackhawks on Jan. 11 and has scored four over his last three games in the series. Chicago was outshot 38-20, still its worst such margin this season.
Carey Price improved to 3-1-0 with a 1.49 goals-against average versus the Blackhawks.
Chicago's Corey Crawford has lost two of three career starts against Montreal despite stopping 89 of 94 shots (.947).
The Canadiens last won in Chicago on Feb. 27, 2002, but have only visited three times since that game. The Blackhawks are 2-0-2 in the past four meetings overall.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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