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Canadiens' Higgins not as badly injured as feared, may play in Nashville

The Canadian Press
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Montreal Canadiens\' Chris Higgins. (CPimages \'06//Paul Chiasson) Author: The Hockey News

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Canadiens' Higgins not as badly injured as feared, may play in Nashville

The Canadian Press
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The first-line winger broke out of a 16-game scoring drought with two goals in a 5-3 victory over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night. But he was helped to the dressing room with what appeared to be a shoulder injury early in the third period and did not return.

After seeing a doctor on Wednesday, Higgins was listed as day-to-day and given the green light to accompany the team for games Thursday in Nashville and Saturday against the Islanders in New York.

"He has a chance to play in both games," added Carbonneau. "It's not as serious as we thought."

The trip is the start of the toughest stretch of the Canadiens schedule. They play seven of their next eight on the road, with the lone home game on Monday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Another key injury was the last thing Carbonneau wanted after losing veteran defenceman Craig Rivet to pneumonia since Feb. 8, winger Alex Kovalev to a sore elbow and top goaltender Cristobal Huet to a torn hamstring last week, as well as checking centre Steve Begin to a broken foot on Sunday.

The coach is also looking forward to seeing his top line of Saku Koivu, Michael Ryder and Higgins back in top form after a long slump.

Higgins and Ryder each scored twice and Koivu had three assists against the Capitals. The line tallied three times on the power play and once short-handed.

Ryder, who had one goal and two assists in his previous 11 games, has three goals and two assists in his last two. Koivu has a goal and four assists in his last two games, matching his production from the previous 17 contests.

"They've been good the last two or three games," said Carbonneau. "They're getting their timing back, so it's relief for everybody that Chris won't be gone long."

Higgins, likely the fastest skater on the team with centre Maxim Lapierre, had eight goals and five assists to lead the team in scoring through the first 13 games of the season, but then missed 18 games with an ankle injury. He only recently looks to have regained his full stride.

Carbonneau said having his top line clicking should help stabilize the entire roster, which had players in and out of the lineup and saw frequent line juggling during an 8-17-1 slump from Dec. 23 to Feb. 17 in which they dropped from fourth to 10th in the Eastern Conference.

They since have wins over Columbus and Washington, each second to last in its conference, so it is too early to tell if the slump is over or has just taken a short break for some bottom-feeding.

At least it had them back in playoff position, although four teams are packed so tightly it can change from day to day.

"My goal is to have four lines going every game," said Carbonneau. "When you have people struggling, it's hard to find a balance.

"That's why in the last two months, there were a lot of line changes - to get people going. I like to have four lines that stay the same. It's better for everybody."

The big test comes Thursday. The Predators are first in the Western Conference and recently boosted their Stanley Cup aspirations by acquiring star centre Peter Forsberg from Philadelphia.

"It'll be a challenge for everyone on the ice," said winger Garth Murray, lately skating on the checking line with Radek Bonk and Mike Johnson. "They're playing really well in their own building (22-5-3).

"We have guys out of the lineup and everyone will have to step up."

With Kovalev out, centre Tomas Plekanec finds himself between Alexander Perezhogin and Sergei Samsonov, while an all-rookie line has Lapierre with Guillaume Latendresse and recent call-up Duncan Milroy.

Latendresse skated in Higgins' spot on the first line on Wednesday, but that will change if Higgins can play.

Rivet will also be on the trip and hopes to get into a game, but Carbonneau said it is unlikely.

The veteran defenceman dropped eight pounds during his pneumonia, which he has yet to regain fully, and still has shortness of breath.

"It's progressing," said Rivet, who has missed seven games. "Each day feels a bit better.

"In practices, I feel a bit tired, but at the end I'm getting full skates in to try to open up my lungs and breath a little better. I want to get back as soon as possible, but I want to be sure I'm close to 100 per cent."

Defenceman Sheldon Souray was given the day off for "therapy" but is not injured, said Carbonneau, who in nearly all practises lets at least one veteran rest.

Newcomer Jaroslav Halak, who is 2-0 in goal since he was called up to replace Huet on Friday, will start a third consecutive game.

Huet is out for the rest of the regular season after surgery Sunday on his hamstring. Kovalev has missed five games and said he would be out at least another week. Begin is gone for two to three weeks.

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Canadiens' Higgins not as badly injured as feared, may play in Nashville