Despite the absence of their top goaltender, the Montreal Canadiens are finally playing like a team deserving of a postseason berth.
The Canadiens go for their season-high sixth straight home victory when they host the Washington Capitals on Saturday.
Montreal (38-31-6), one of several teams battling for the Eastern Conference's final two playoff spots, has won five of its last six games following a 4-11-0 stretch. The hot stretch has come without No. 1 goaltender Cristobal Huet, who sustained a left hamstring injury in a loss to New Jersey on Feb.14.
Huet was originally expected to be sidelined for the remainder of the regular season, but the team's official Web site reported he took part in his first full practice since the injury Friday morning. The All-Star netminder, who is 19-15-3 with a 2.74 goals-against average, said he's not feeling any discomfort but isn't sure when he'll return.
"We still haven't really set a timetable for when I'll be back. We're taking this day-by-day," Huet told the team's site. "All I really know is that I'm not playing Saturday night and we'll see how my leg responds to the next couple of practices."
Jaroslav Halak, whom the Canadiens called up from Hamilton of the AHL the day after Huet got hurt, has started 10 of Montreal's last 15 games. The rookie is 6-4 with a 3.04 GAA during that span, but is 3-0-0 with a 1.62 GAA in his last three straight starts.
He made 32 saves Thursday, when Montreal scored five unanswered goals in the final 22 minutes to beat the Boston Bruins 6-3 and sweep a home-and-home series. The Canadiens trailed 3-1 in the second period before five different players found the back of the net.
It was just the fourth game this season where Montreal scored six goals or more.
"Our forwards were great in the third," said Halak, who made 15 saves Feb. 20 in a 5-3 win over Washington in his second start. "They kept the pressure on and we were able to find ways to score."
Christopher Higgins had a goal and three assists and Tomas Plekanec recorded a goal and two assists for the Canadiens, who went 3-for-7 on the power play. Montreal owns the NHL's top power-play unit, converting 22.5 percent of its chances this season, and has been even better versus Washington (26-36-13).
The Canadiens have capitalized on 33.3 percent (5 of 15) of their extra-man opportunities against the Capitals this season, leading to two wins in three matchups. Montreal is also 6-1-1 with a tie in its last nine home meetings with Washington.
The Capitals, who have already been eliminated from postseason contention, are trying to avoid their seventh straight road defeat as they conclude a three-game trip. Washington started the season 8-4-4 away from home, but since then has gone 2-17-2.
The Capitals have been outscored 25-12 in their last six road losses, including a 4-3 defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday. Washington was held to just 10 shots on net, its fewest since recording nine in a loss to New Jersey on Dec. 4, 2003.
"They played well defensively," said Capitals leading scorer Alexander Ovechkin, who scored twice to boost his season totals to 43 goals and 86 points. "We just didn't shoot it."