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Canadiens Hall of Famers praise this season's Habs

NHL.com @NHL

Jean Beliveau's name appears on the Stanley Cup a record 17 times - ten times as a player and seven more as an executive. Guy Lafleur and Rejean Houle each hoisted the Cup five times in their playing careers.

Safe to say the former Montreal Canadiens stars aren't easily impressed.

Beliveau, Lafleur and Houle all weighed in Thursday on the superb teamwork and goaltending that helped this season's Canadiens upset the top-seeded Washington Capitals in seven games in the first round of the NHL playoffs.

Next up is a series with the defending champion Penguins beginning Friday in Pittsburgh.

Beliveau, a smooth-skating center and Hall of Famer with 507 career goals, ranked the goaltending performance of Jaroslav Halak among some rather illustrious company.

"I've seen some in my life: Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden or even Jacques Plante," Beliveau said. "But Halak offered a performance that people will remember. Some said Halak took us to the playoffs and that's all that needs to be said."

Beliveau believes good goaltending is key to winning a Stanley Cup championship. And it doesn't get any better than Halak's performance in the last three games against the Capitals, who fired 134 shots at Halak in that span and got past him only three times.

From his restaurant in Rosemere, Quebec, Lafleur paid tribute to the team's old-fashioned hard work. The Canadiens used their bodies to block a staggering number of shots throughout the series.

Lafleur, who scored 560 goals in his Hall of Fame career, said the players showed teamwork and were ready to pay the price to win, and he said nobody played the role of prima donna.

"I was talking to (former Montreal players) Phil Goyette and Dollard St-Laurent and we felt proud to see them playing like we did when we were winning Stanley Cups," said Lafleur, who won five championships in the 1970s.

"It's very positive to see them playing as a team."

Beliveau was in his seat early to watch Game 7 at home. It was clear to the former Montreal captain that the Canadiens wanted it more than the Capitals, and he said that made all the difference.

But one name kept coming back in all the conversations: Jaroslav Halak. Beliveau cited an old adage in the league that "without a goalie, you won't get very far."

Beliveau lauded the team for bringing a bit of pleasure to the city for a few hours, allowing people to put aside their problems and unite in support of the bleu-blanc-rouge.

Houle, the Canadiens' general manager from 1995-2000, called the victory important for the entire organization, which has undergone massive changes in recent months with a new owner and a new GM.

Houle said it was clear the Canadiens had the players to go head-to-head against any team in the league.

"The players defeated the best team in the league," Houle said. "The atmosphere in the room is good and, right now, everything is falling into place. There's a team spirit that's forming and the bottom line is the wins are there."

Mike Bossy, the Montreal-born former New York Islanders star, said he was surprised by the Canadiens' ability to withstand the Capitals and high-scoring forward Alex Ovechkin.

Bossy, who won four straight Cups with the Islanders in the early 1980s, said the team that moves on to the next round is the one that isn't affected by the inevitable highs and lows.

"It's not the number of superstars that makes the difference, but the desire to win and to play to the very end," he said.

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