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Atlanta, GA - While All-Star Carey Price is moving closer to returning from a sprained ankle, the Montreal Canadiens haven't experienced much of a drop off thanks to more offense and Price's backup Jaroslav Halak.

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The Canadiens look to take advantage of a matchup with one of the NHL's worst teams Tuesday when they visit the Atlanta Thrashers.

Oddsmakers from Online Sportsbook Sportsbook.com have made the Canadiens –175 money line favorites for Tuesday’s game against the Thrashers. Current NHL Public Betting Information shows that 86% of more than 235 bets for this game have been placed on the Canadiens -175.

Montreal (27-11-6) has won eight of its last 10 and is 11-2-1 since snapping a season-high three-game losing streak Dec. 18. The Canadiens have gotten on a roll despite playing without Price, who was elected to start this season's All-Star game in front of his home crowd, for the last eight games because of a sprained ankle.

Montreal improved to 6-2-0 in his absence with a 5-4 shootout win over Ottawa on Saturday. Halak recorded 23 saves and didn't allow a goal in the shootout, while Alex Kovalev and Maxim Lapierre scored in the tiebreaker for Montreal.

The Canadiens have averaged 4.1 goals in the last eight games after averaging 2.8 in the previous nine.

"The biggest thing is we got the two points, and Boston lost tonight, so that's huge for us," Lapierre said. "We're on a hot streak right now. It doesn't matter how we get the points."

Halak made his eighth straight start Saturday. He's 11-7-1 with a 2.80 goals-against average this season, but will be back on the bench if Price can return this week.

Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau - an assistant coach for the Eastern Conference All-Star team - said last week that he didn't expect Price to play in the All-Star game Sunday if he was unable to play for the Canadiens this week. Veteran goalie Marc Denis was sent to Hamilton of the AHL on Sunday night, clearing the way for Price to rejoin lineup.

"He feels good,'' Carbonneau said Monday. ``He had a really good practice today so I don't see why he wouldn't play in the All-Star game, but I haven't made any plans on the next two games."

Saturday began a five-game road stretch for the Canadiens that runs through the All-Star break and into next week.

Atlanta (16-25-5) has been building some momentum before the break, winning two straight after going 2-7-1 in its previous 10 games. The Thrashers own the league's second-worst record, but they're coming off their biggest win of the season, 7-2 over Nashville on Saturday.

Seven Atlanta players scored and Rich Peverley had three assists against his former team as the Thrashers tied their season high in goals. Peverley, picked up off waivers a week ago, has a goal and five assists in three games with Atlanta after recording two goals and seven assists in 27 games with Nashville.

"He's got tremendous vision and he can really pass the puck. ... All the things we hoped he'd be, so far he's been," coach John Anderson said.

While Peverley has quickly fit in with the Thrashers, Ilya Kovalchuk has been hot for three weeks. The Thrashers star recorded a goal and an assist Saturday and has eight goals and four assists in the last nine games, giving him a team-best 48 points (19 goals, 29 assists).

Montreal has won three straight over Atlanta, the most recent victory coming by a 5-4 score Dec. 2. The Canadiens lead the series 22-6-3 with two ties.

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Posted: 1/20/09 3:30AM ET


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