BROSSARD – With an adversary now in their sights, the Habs evaluate how they’ll match up with the Sens in the first round.
The Canadiens may have finished five spots above the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference rankings, but the opening-round series between the two teams could prove to be one of the most evenly matched to start the playoffs. Having met four times during the 2012-13 regular season campaign, both clubs head into the playoffs dead even, posting a head-to-head record of 2-1-1, with each squad logging two wins on home ice.
“This will be my third time going up against the Senators in the playoffs and they’ve always been a team that shows up well prepared. They’ll be prepared and so will we,” said Michel Therrien, who went up against Ottawa as coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins in both 2006-07 and 2007-08, dropping the first series and sweeping the second. “The Senators are an excellent team with a very good structure. They play well defensively and have good goaltending. I’m expecting a hard-nosed series between these two teams – like all first-round series usually are. It should be a tight checking game, which is what brought both teams success this year.”
Considering the clear edge home-ice advantage should provide in this series, Therrien will be making the most of his time leading up to Thursday’s Game One to best prepare his team for a strong start at the Bell Centre.
“It’s a privilege to be able to make the playoffs and another privilege to be able to do it with home-ice advantage,” he added. “Everyone knows that Montreal is a hard place to play if you’re a visiting team. We’re heading into this series with a lot of confidence, and with good reason.”
Another similarity shared by the Canadiens and Senators has been their ability to overcome adversity this past season. While the Habs enjoyed an epic bounce back year, the Sens surprised most with their depth and structure after losing key players early.
“It’s going to be a big challenge for us. I don’t think anybody would have thought that with them missing Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and a few other big names, that they would have made the playoffs with those types of players out of the lineup – let alone finish where they finished,” shared P.K. Subban, who has a goal and two assists in three games against the Senators this year. “We know we’re up against a tough team and it doesn’t really have anything to do with the standings or where anybody finished – these are two good teams that are going to play a seven game series and the better one will move on.”
A team’s playoff success begins and ends with its goaltending, and if history is any indicator, Carey Price and the Canadiens could have the edge in that department. The Habs carry a strong finish to their season and Price's impressive 14-5-3 career-record against the Senators into round one.
“Obviously I don’t want to go into too much detail about [our game plan] – we don’t want to give too much away, but it’s going to be a lot more of the same,” expressed Price, who along with the rest of his team will be tasked with shutting down Erik Karlsson, who after only three games back in Ottawa’s lineup already has four points to his name. “We want to lay bodies on their d-men, get pucks towards the net and try to get as much traffic there as possible. [Craig] Anderson’s a top-notch goaltender and we know we need to get in his face because I don’t doubt they’re going to do the same to me.”
At the helm of a confident team and with four days left to fine-tune its performance, the Canadiens’ head coach is clearly expecting nothing less than an all-out battle when the puck drops at the Bell Centre at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday night.
“When you head into the playoffs, you’re always expecting every series to be long and tough. That’s the mentality you need to have as a team,” he concluded. “A rivalry with the Senators is about to be born. Rivalries are built from playoff series. We’re going to be launching a new one with the Senators soon, and it’s exciting to be a part of.”Justin Fragapane is a writer for canadiens.com.
Words from the room: April 29, 2013Carey Price named the Canadiens 2012-13 Molson Cup Player of the Year First round schedule Date for the dance Fallen Leafs