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Caps set to open playoffs against Habs

by Dan Rosen
CANADIENS (39-33-10) at CAPITALS (54-15-13)

Last 10 -- Montreal 3-4-3; Washington 6-1-3.

Season Series -- Washington and Montreal split the season series, each taking five of eight points. Montreal beat the Caps in regulation on Nov. 20 and again in that wild OT game on Feb. 10. That was the last time these two played in the regular season. Washington beat Montreal in a shootout on Nov. 28 and in regulation on Jan. 5.

Big Story -- It's the playoffs, does it get any bigger? Washington wants to get off to a good start to buck its current trend of playing in each series to the seven games. The Caps lost the opener in last year's playoffs to New York and fell behind 3-1 before rallying for a 4-3 series victory. They beat the Penguins in Games 1 and 2, but fell in seven games. Montreal just wants to get off to a good start to get out of its current slump. The Habs closed the regular season with only three wins in their final 11 games. That's why they are eighth and opening in D.C.

Team Scope:

Canadiens -- They went 11-7-4 in the last quarter of the season, but eight of those wins came in the first 11 games thanks to a six-game winning streak from March 6-16. Montreal did not fare well down the stretch, which is why it plummeted from sixth to eighth and needed at least a point in its final game to clinch a playoff berth. Michael Cammalleri came back from his knee injury to play in the final nine games of the season, but outside of a two-assist night against the Devils he was shut out completely. Cammalleri hasn't scored a goal since Jan. 23. Jaroslav Halak appears to be the man in net for the Habs at least to start the playoffs, but interestingly it was Carey Price who played in all four games against Washington this season. Price had a 3.38 GAA. Halak allowed four goals in each of his last two games of the regular season, so he's not a hot goalie right now.

"He's played better games," Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said of Halak after Saturday's' 4-3 overtime loss to Toronto, "but he played well enough to get the point we needed."

Capitals -- Finally, the Capitals can play a meaningful game again. They had the top seed in the Eastern Conference wrapped up a while ago and earned the President's Trophy with a week remaining in the season. Washington didn't look like a team that was taking it easy. It went 5-0-1 down the stretch. Even though Bruce Boudreau hasn't formally named Jose Theodore his starter for Game 1, it'd be a shock if the former Habs goalie was on the bench. Theodore is 20-0-3 with a 2.58 GAA and .922 save percentage in the last three months. He has allowed only nine goals in the third period over that span. However, he played only one time against Montreal this season and gave up four goals on 25 shots in relief of Michal Neuvirth. Since leaving Montreal in 2006, Theodore is 2-1-1 with a 4.05 GAA and .877 save percentage against his former club.

"Theo hasn't been named our starter yet," Boudreau said Monday. "If I don't deny it then you're saying it's a truism so I wanted to make a point of saying that. They'll (the goalies) will know and you won't (until Thursday). If I tell you now you'll be asking these guys, digging in for the questions, so if they don't know then how can they tell you."

Who's hot -- Caps right wing Alexander Semin had points in 11 of the final 13 regular season games totaling 9 goals and 7 assists. Center Nicklas Backstrom had 9 points in three games before getting shut out in the season finale against Boston. Montreal right wing Brian Gionta had a goal in each of the final three games and center Scott Gomez had three assists over the last two games. Defenseman Andrei Markov had a goal and two assists in the season finale against Toronto.

Injury report -- Montreal defenseman Paul Mara (left shoulder surgery) is expected to miss the rest of the season, while Glen Metropolit is out with a separated left shoulder/torn muscle. Washington's only injury is Milan Jurcina, who is still recovering from a hernia operation.

Stat pack -- The gap in offense in this series could be wide. Washington led the NHL with 3.82 goals per game while Montreal was 26th at 2.56 goals per game. In 5-on-5 play, the Caps had a League-best 213 goals while the Habs had a League-worst 132 goals. However, their power plays are similarly good. Washington was first at 25.2 percent and Montreal was second at 21.8 percent, but the Caps had 52 more advantages than the Canadiens.

Puck drop -- "It's Montreal, it's the Canadiens and it wouldn't surprise me if there is a 10-page spread come Wednesday and Thursday and all the TV stations will lead with the stories about the Canadiens. So, there is a lot of pressure. The other thing, too, is everybody in the city knows who every player is. It's not like in this city where you know where Alex, Mike and Nicky are and maybe guys like John Carlson can walk around unknown. They know every single guy from Mathieu Darche to Brian Gionta." -- Caps coach Bruce Boudreau
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