BROSSARD – The Canadiens’ climb to a berth in the playoffs begins Wednesday night with the Washington Capitals.
If Habs fans have heard the phrase “most important game of the season” tossed around a lot lately, it’s for a good reason. With only 10 points separating eighth and fifteenth place in the tighter-than-ever Eastern Conference, two points has the potential to go a long way in the second half of the season. Add that to the fact that the Habs find themselves up against three teams still within their sights this week – starting with the Caps – and chance to do some damage in the standings ups the ante even higher.
“From our side, it’s just about taking that step forward after playing a good game against New York. That’s all we really want to do is to keep taking those steps forward,” said Randy Cunneyworth whose team will be facing a Capitals squad that currently holds the eighth and final playoff seat in the East. Alexandre Ovechkin and the rest of the Caps will be looking to rebound after a 3-0 Tuesday night blanking at the hands of the Islanders.
“Tonight we’re going to be going up against a team that’s coming off a tough loss and they’ll be smarting from that and ready to go” added Cunneyworth. “They went scoreless and they’re certainly going to look to get themselves going again at our expense, so we have to make sure we’re ready for that.”
Despite not finishing out the Habs 4-1 Sunday win over the Rangers, both Tomas Plekanec and Travis Moen are expected to be in the lineup to face the Capitals on Wednesday night. Lars Eller and Andrei Kostitsyn also didn’t see a full game’s worth of action on Sunday but will get the chance to bounce back against Washington after being relegated to the bench for most of the second period after a lacklustre opening frame.
“They know what they need to do and they know how they have to play. We’ve seen good performances from them, but we can’t afford a night where they have a shift or two off,” continued Cunneyworth, who will clearly being expecting solid efforts from both skaters in the Habs’ biggest game of the year. “They can play at both ends of the ice and they’re often given the tough assignment of going up against the other team’s top lines where they’ve performed very well. Against the Rangers I didn’t think they were up to the task so we made a little adjustment – but they came back strong. I think they finished well and hopefully they’ll carry that into tonight’s game.”
With momentum proving a tough commodity to come by in 2011-12, the rest of the Canadiens will be hoping to do the same when the puck drops at 7:30 p.m. Duplicating the consistent effort they put in against the Rangers will at the top of the to-do list in the week’s first tilt.
“We know that this year even when we’re been struggling, a lot of the times we’re still having pretty good games. It’s that five or ten minutes every game that ends up costing us,” dropped forward Mathieu who played the majority of his shifts alongside Scott Gomez and Mike Blunden against the Rangers. “Look at the game against Boston – it was a lucky goal that was the difference. We’re not getting blown out of the water by every team, we’re usually right there and it’s just a question of us being consistent in our execution.
“We’ve shown that we can do it,” he added. “We played the top team in our conference on Sunday and controlled the game from the first to the last minute. We all believe in what we can do.”
Justin Fragapane is a writer for canadiens.com.
Rink of dreams
A big week
The Montreal Canadiens Children's Foundation inaugurates a fourth outdoor Bleu Blanc Bouge rink Budaj's big night