Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty was enjoying a strong season until he was hit by Zdeno Chara. ((Graham Hughes/Canadian Press))

Injured Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty could return to practising in three to five weeks, coach Jacques Martin told reporters Thursday.

That timetable could see the 22-year-old coming back for the playoffs, which would be remarkable after the scary hit he suffered in a March 8 home game against the Bruins.

"It's encouraging because at one time there was a question of whether he could come back and play, so this is good news," said coach Jacques Martin. "And it's encouraging to see that he will be able to start his training in a short time and should be able to play in the playoffs."

Montreal hasn't clinched a playoff berth yet, but they are more than likely to qualify.

Pacioretty was taken off on a stretcher and hospitalized after being ridden into the stanchion near the Boston bench by six-foot-nine defenceman Zdeno Chara. He suffered a severe concussion and fractured the fourth vertebra in his neck when his head slammed into the support.

"It was clear when it was announced it was a fractured vertebra, but not displaced, and after a second observation [Wednesday] when he visited the specialist he was very happy with the progress so far," Martin said. "There was never a prognostic issued about the time of his absence."

The hit transcended the hockey world, especially after the NHL elected not to suspend Chara, deeming it a "hockey play" with a terrible consequence.

Canadiens owner Geoff Molson and a handful of players in the league publicly criticized the decision, and Montreal fans held a protest Tuesday before the team's game against Washington.

Some of the NHL's sponsors also urged the league to get serious about headshots and player safety.

Pacioretty was naturally displeased with the NHL's decision but urged police not to pursue an investigation that they had commenced looking into the hit.

The New Canaan, Conn., native had 14 goals and 10 assists in 37 games for Montreal at the time of the incident.

Montreal hosts Tampa Bay on Thursday.

With files from The Canadian Press