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5 points to spell victory for the Habs

by Dan Rosen
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Confidence inside the Montreal Canadiens' locker room probably never has been higher this season than it is right now. The Habs are having fun and winning games because they're getting early leads and unreal goaltending.

They have forced a Game 7 in a series that just about everyone figured they had no business even competing in.

Montreal heads into Verizon Center on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN, RDS) confident it can topple the NHL's best regular-season team. The Canadiens already have won twice in the Capitals' home building in this series and another time during the regular season.

If they're going to win there again Wednesday, they're going to need a lot to go right. Here are five things the Canadiens could use in order to pull off this remarkable upset:

1. Another Roy-like game from Halak

Montreal might need another stunning performance from its Slovak goalie to beat the Capitals, and by now he's certainly proven he can do it. But can he do it one more time? It would be something, that's for sure. Halak has stopped 90 of 92 shots over the last two games to lift his team back into this series. The Capitals say he's not in their heads and they're not thinking about him, but every player in Washington's locker room Monday night was crediting Halak -- and only Halak -- for Montreal's win. If he's not in their heads, than how come the Capitals are saying Halak was the only reason Montreal won?

2. More sublime penalty killing

Coach Bruce Boudreau and captain Alex Ovechkin get asked about the Caps' broken power play every day now, and they keep saying it's because they're not doing enough to score goals, they're trying to be too cute and they aren't gritty enough. What we haven't heard is either Boudreau or Ovechkin complement the Canadiens on what has been a marvelous penalty kill. Washington is 1-for-30 on the power play, but that means the Canadiens are 29-for-30 on the penalty kill. They were downright spectacular during a three-on-five for 75 seconds in the first period Monday, and that probably was the turning point in the game. The Habs are giving themselves a chance to win with their penalty kill.

3. Better puck possession

As good as Halak has been, 54 shots on goal are way too many to give up in one game, and the Canadiens know it. Asked late Monday night how the Habs are keeping the Capitals down, Michael Cammalleri answered honestly by saying that they're not. He's right. Washington is getting too many quality chances and eventually they're going to start going in the net. It wouldn't be wrong to predict for that to happen Wednesday because you have to wonder how long players like Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble and Mike Green can be held down. The Habs have to limit the chances the Capitals get because it could be the end of them if they don't.

4. Protection for the goalie

If the Capitals, as everyone expects, crash the net hard Wednesday, the Canadiens better have some bodies there to protect Halak. One way to rattle a hot goalie is to get into his kitchen and frustrate him, force him to retaliate and perhaps even take an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty. That'll get him out of his zone in a heartbeat. Players like Knuble, Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera will run over Halak if given the chance. It might even be worth taking a goalie-interference penalty if it happens early in the game. You always want to protect your best asset, and Montreal has none better right now than Halak.

5. The early lead

They've jumped out to 2-0 leads before 10 minutes expired in each of the last two games and they won them both. This is not just a coincidence. The Canadiens obviously play better with the lead; what team doesn't? But when they've gotten the early lead in this series they have been able to go into a 1-2-2 trap, and that has at least limited some of the good looks the Capitals could be getting at the net. When Washington gets a lead, the Canadiens have to start pressing for a goal and that means they can't play that 1-2-2, so the Capitals can find holes and counterattack with odd-man rushes and the like. It's more imperative for the Habs to get an early lead than it is for the Capitals because Washington has shown its resiliency all season long, and already once in this series, when they came back from a 4-1 deficit in Game 2 to win 6-5 in overtime.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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