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The Montreal Canadiens will attempt to close out their series with the Florida Panthers with a win Tuesday night at the Bell Centre. It is the first game of the season according to Sheldon Souray, who stated that the season will begin all over again for Montreal starting with their game versus Florida. With the race for a playoff spot getting tighter and tighter, every game from now to the end of the season is important. Also, a win against Florida would even the season series at two apiece.

However, the Habs will have to go for the win without defenseman Craig Rivet who continues to recover from pneumonia. They will also be without Alex Kovalev who is suffering from an upper body injury. Kovalev went to the hospital after the practice Monday for x-rays, but it is still uncertain to how serious the injury is. Mike Johnson is another player doubtful for action tonight after he missed practice with flu symptoms.

With the Tampa Bay Lightning’s win over the New Jersey Devils Sunday, Montreal was knocked down to 7th place in the Eastern Conference. It’s safe to say that every game counts from now until the end of the season. The Habs currently have 64 points, which leaves them only 3 points ahead of the ninth place Toronto Maple Leafs who hold a game in hand. Things are extremely tight, and every loss can drive a team down, closer to the bubble.

The Habs have only a single win in February, losing 5 of 6 games, and only one of those came in a shoot-out. Thus, Montreal has only collected 3 of a possible 12 points this month, and acknowledges the fact that they’ll have to pick up their play soon if they plan on making the playoffs. The Canadiens are currently on a three game losing streak.

Cristobal Huet will get the start in goal for the Habs Tuesday night. In his last start, Huet allowed 4 goals to the Ottawa Senators. Apart from the first goal he allowed, he had a relatively strong game and did all he could to keep his team in the game by stopping 35 of 39 shots. Ed Belfour should get the start in net for the Panthers.

The Florida Panthers have had the Habs’ number this season, winning two of the three matches while allowing Montreal only a single goal each game. Florida won the first meeting of the season by a score of 5-1 on November 16th, 2006. Olli Jokinen scored a hat trick, and Ed Belfour made 27 saves for the win.

The last meeting between these two teams saw the Habs lose 3-1. Once again Ed Belfour was strong in net and Montreal allowed Florida to score two third period goals to break a 1-1 tie.

The Canadiens only win against the Panthers this season came in a 1-0 shoot-out win. Both Cristobal Huet and Alex Auld had an excellent game, but in the end it was Saku Koivu’s shoot-out goal that proved to be the difference.

Montreal’s last game came against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday. The Sens put 5 goals past goaltender David Aebischer who wasn’t having his best outing of the season to say the least. Steve Begin made his return to the line-up after missing 27 games and paid instant dividends by scoring on of the Habs’ 3 goals. Begin also helped out on the penalty kill with his shot-blocking ability and had 5 hits on the night.

The Panthers skated to a 5-2 win over the Phoenix Coyotes last Saturday. The win marked only their second over the past 5 games, which included a 7-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on home ice. The Panthers roll into Montreal with the East’s second worst winning percentage, better only than the Philadelphia Flyers.

Emery Suspended: Ottawa goaltender Ray Emery was suspended by the league Monday for an incident that occurred during the Sens 5-3 win over Montreal Saturday night. Emery swung his stick into Maxim Lapierre’s face, an action that could have had serious consequences had the Habs’ forward not been wearing a visor. Emery will miss 3 games.

Kostitsyn On Fire: Andrei Kostitsyn is tearing apart the AHL as of late. Kostitsyn was named the AHL player of the week after scoring 5 goals and 3 assists for 8 points in 4 games. The Belarusian winger also had a rating of +1 and even collected 13 PIMs. He even dropped the gloves during a 9-5 blow-out win over the Rochester Americans.

Semenov Returns: Defenseman Alexei Semenov had originally left the Panthers to play in Russia after failing to crack the team in training camp. The 6’6” defenseman has 5 goals and 16 points in 119 career games in the NHL. The 25-year-old will get his first opportunity to add to those totals when the Panthers face the Habs Tuesday night.