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Caps face Habs for first time since playoff ouster

by Corey Masisak /
WASHINGTON -- It was 163 days between the end of last season and the start of this one for the Washington Capitals.

After years of building a team worthy of Stanley Cup contender status, that was far too many nights for the players to think about what might have been. The Capitals will face the team that forced them into an early offseason last spring when the Montreal Canadiens visit Verizon Center on Tuesday night.

"I think it is pretty well the same team and we didn't make a lot of changes in the summer," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We had a miserable summer thanks to [these] guys. That's in the back of our minds obviously."

Added center David Steckel: "Yeah, we had a long summer off and a long time to think about it. It was a big disappointment. We're going to go out tonight and I hope guys have a chip on their shoulder because that is the way we should be playing."

Montreal completed one of the biggest upsets in NHL history in April. The eighth-seeded Canadiens defeated the Presidents' Cup-winning Capitals in seven games, including a 2-1 victory in Game 7 in front of more than 18,000 red-clad fans -- many of whom will be there Tuesday hoping for some measure of revenge.

What made the series victory even more improbable was Montreal's ability to erase Washington's 3-1 lead by capturing two of the final three games on the road. The Capitals lost five times in regulation at Verizon Center during the regular season in 2009-10 -- then lost three times in four games to the Canadiens.

"It is going to be a big game for us mentally. Last year we lost to them in the playoffs," Alex Ovechkin said. "I think it is going to be more the fans need the win more than anybody. They are going to want us to win this game so bad, so we're going to try and give them a present."

Ovechkin had 10 points in the series, but eight of them came in his team's three victories. He, like the rest of his teammates, struggled mightily against Jaroslav Halak and Montreal's rigid defensive system in the final three games of that series.

Washington's captain had one goal on 24 shots, while Halak turned away 131 of the 134 shots he faced in Montreal's three wins to take the series. Halak is gone, off to St. Louis in a surprising offseason trade, but many of the skaters who played in front of him remain.

The Capitals had little trouble with Montreal's other goaltender at the time, Carey Price, during that postseason series, putting six shots past him in 90 minutes of work. Price emerged as the No. 1 goaltender this summer after the Halak deal and was off to a great start but has scuffled a bit of late.

Price has lost five of his last seven decisions and yielded 25 goals in that span, and the Canadiens have dropped to eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

"The way I approach this is Montreal needs two points right now. We need two points right now," Boudreau said. "The League itself and the Eastern Conference is so much tighter than it's been the past couple years. It is going to come down to the wire for a lot of teams whether you end up in third or eighth, so I think everybody sees the importance of points. The scoreboard watching that has started so early on in the season is going to continue right to the end of the season."

Washington now has points in four straight contests (3-0-1) since an eight-game losing streak. Ovechkin scored Sunday to snap an eight-game drought and the Capitals have yielded 12 goals while going 3-1-2 in their last six contests.

"If this were a week ago, our confidence would have been as low as you could possibly get it, but I think we're started to come out of that because we've had the success of winning a couple of games," Boudreau said.
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