Stars' Radulov returns to Montreal
MONTREAL -- Emotion shouldn't be a problem for the Dallas Stars when they visit the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.
The Stars (28-25-6) should be fired up as they fight for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. They are holding the first wild-card position with 82 points, two more than the Colorado Avalanche, who hold the second wild card, and three more than the Los Angeles Kings, who are on the outside looking in.
The Stars will play the second game of a big six-game road trip against the Canadiens (25-32-12) after starting the trip with a 3-1 loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Dallas held an optional skate at the Canadiens' suburban practice facility on Monday.
In addition to what's at stake in the playoff race, the Stars can expect to get some emotion from forward Alexander Radulov, who will play his first game in Montreal since turning down the Canadiens to sign a five-year, $31.25 million with Dallas during the summer.
Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said Radulov, who also played three seasons in Nashville for the Predators, has performed well against his old teams. He played against the Canadiens Nov. 21 in Dallas.
"He's gone and performed awful well in Nashville. And he's done fine there and he played well against Montreal, so I anticipate that he'll be able to do the same again. But you're right, it is an emotional distraction," Hitchcock told dallasstars.com. "But I think just where everything's at playoffs-wise, we've all got to just get beyond all of that stuff right now."
Hitchcock spent Monday tweaking the Stars game plan against the Canadiens.
"At this time of year, you really leave the emotion to the players and you provide tactics and adjustments, and that's your job as a coach," Hitchcock told the team's website. "If you're having to take care of the emotion at this time of year, you haven't done your job for the first 60 (games). And you weather it with the players.
"Sometimes, it's going to be really emotionally draining and tough like (Sunday) was, and sometimes, it's going to be in good shape. So you just have to weather that storm with the players, and that's really important."
The Stars are without top goaltender Ben Bishop, who has missed the past three games with a knee injury. He skated Monday in full equipment for the first time since the injury.
"He's a couple of steps away, but it's a good sign to have him on the ice today with gear on," Hitchcock said.
Kari Lehtonen has started the past three games and is 1-2-0, but has given up only four goals in those three games.
The Canadiens return home for a brief two-game homestand. After hosting the Stars, they play the Pittsburgh Penguins at Bell Centre on Thursday. The Canadiens were 1-4-1 on their road trip and are coming off a 5-2 loss to the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Monday.
The Canadiens, who are without top defenseman Shea Weber (out for the season after foot surgery), captain Max Pacioretty (knee) and goaltender Carey Price (concussion), have lost five games in a row (0-3-2).
The Canadiens will be looking to improve their special teams. The Blue Jackets scored on two of their three power-play chances and the Montreal penalty killing has slipped to 19th in the league.
"For us, when you're struggling on special teams, the best thing to do is not to overcomplicate it," Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher, one of the few Canadiens having a good season, told Montrealcanadiens.com. "Just simplify it, understand, do your job, trust that your teammates are going to do their own. At times right now we're maybe overworking and it's allowing seams and plays to open up."
Gallagher scored his 25th of the season, a new career high, against the Blue Jackets. He has four goals and two assists in his past six games.
Updated March 13, 2018