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Five Keys to the Game: Habs-Senators #1

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

Prust or bust: If the Canadiens want to stack the odds in their favor during their first round series against Ottawa, there’s one item they should add to the game plan: get the puck to Brandon Prust. Over the course of the 2014-15 season, the Habs have boasted a 13-1-1 record when the gritty forward gets his name on the score sheet. That includes a convincing 4-1 win over the Sens at the Bell Centre in December in which Prust netted the first period equalizer before the Habs scored three more unanswered goals. More importantly though, the 31-year-old winger’s magic touch has also guaranteed past postseason success. Prust picked up an assist in a Game 3 against Tampa last spring and another helper in Game 7 in Boston – to lead the Habs to 3-2 and 3-1 wins, respectively. Still not convinced? In the 2012-13 series against the Sens, Prust was held scoreless every night except one – during the Habs’ lone win on May 3, a 3-1 decision in Montreal.

Wild card: Devante Smith-Pelly may have just one goal to his credit since arriving in Montreal in February, but if last year’s postseason is any indication, expect the gritty winger to start filling the net with more regularity come springtime. The Canadiens’ leader in goals per playoff game, Smith-Pelly scored five goals in 12 postseason tilts with the Ducks last year – his first in the NHL – and Anaheim won every game in which Toronto native lit the lamp.

Masked Men: Sens rookie Andrew Hammond has been making headlines of late after arriving from Binghamton with a 3.51 goals-against average and .898 save percentage and miraculously helping the big club overcome a 14-point gap to make the playoffs. While there’s no question the 27-year-old has been spectacular down the stretch, posting a 1.79 GAA and .941 save percentage in 24 games following the All-Star break, the Habs have a netminder who’s no slouch between the pipes himself. In 66 games this season, Carey Price led the NHL in GAA (1.96), save percentage (.933) and wins (44), but he’s also been playing some of his best hockey of the year since January, going 20-6-4 since All-Star weekend while posting a stingy 1.74 GAA, .939 save percentage and, most impressively, seven shutouts.

Win game 1: While it seems obvious that a key to winning a series would be to start by winning the first game, it’s even truer when it comes to facing the Ottawa Senators come springtime. In 23 playoff series in franchise history, the Sens have lost the first game 12 times and gone on to lose the best-of-7 matchup on 10 occasions in those circumstances, rallying back to win just twice. Winning the first game is far from a guaranteed series win for Ottawa, however, as they’ve gone 7-4 in the 11 rounds they’ve played in which they won the opening tilt.

Secret weapons: With the exact date of Max Pacioretty’s first-round return still a question mark for the Habs, secondary scoring takes on a new importance against the Sens. If the past is any indication, filling the temporary gap left by the leading scorer’s absence should be no problem for the unsung heroes on the Canadiens roster. A year ago, Rene Bourque and Dale Weise were the Habs’ postseason surprises, racking up 11 and seven points over three playoff rounds, respectively. After picking up four goals and five points over his last seven regular season games, Lars Eller looks to be ready to repeat his postseason success from a year ago, when he registered 13 points in 17 games. On the blue line, meanwhile, the Habs can count on a veritable playoff vet in Sergei Gonchar, who enters this spring’s dance with 141 games of playoff experience and 90 career playoff points under his belt. On the other end of the postseason experience spectrum is Jeff Petry, who despite being a playoff rookie, has heated up at exactly the right time with seven points in his last seven regular season games.

- canadiens.com

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