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Home ice has been no advantage for Habs

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com
Win one game at home and the Montreal Canadiens will have a chance to win the series. It really doesn't get any more simple, straightforward or direct than that.

Ah, but if only it was so easy. Not only will the Canadiens be facing a mad squad from Washington, one that just happened to be the best in the NHL this season, they will also be facing their own home-ice demons when Game 6 begins Monday night at 7 p.m. ET (Versus, TSN, RDS).

Not since Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2008 -- five home playoff games ago -- have the Habs won in the postseason at Bell Centre, where 21,273 spill through the turnstiles and scream their ever-lovin' heads off for what is arguably the world's most famous hockey franchise.

They are 4-10 at home in the playoffs since the work stoppage and 0-2 in this series. Neither game was all that close.

Washington won Game 3 by a wide 5-1 margin and they took Game 4, 6-3, after trailing by a goal entering the final 10 seconds of the second period. The Capitals have not been intimidated by the raucous crowd, but instead motivated and energized by it.

In each game they have scored four straight goals, all within less than 20 minutes.

"I think the whole team loves to play here," Alex Ovechkin said after Game 3. "It's a good atmosphere, unbelievable crowd. So, we just use their fans like our fans."

That can't happen again if the Habs are going to force a Game 7 back at the Caps' red-clad and similarly raucous barn in the heart of D.C.'s Chinatown.

"Obviously coming back home we want to take advantage of our crowd and the atmosphere that's here, use that for our advantage," Habs right wing Brian Gionta said. "But obviously some funny things have happened as far as home ice."

It's been a League-wide problem -- after the Coyotes routed the Red Wings in Detroit on Sunday, home teams in the playoffs are just 20-23 this season. The Penguins, Sharks and Flyers closed out their series on the road. Even Washington has lost two of three at Verizon Center, where it failed to come away with two points only 11 times during the regular season.

"I don't know what this is (all about)," Habs center Dominic Moore said. "That's for you guys (the media) to figure out. But hopefully we can channel that energy into the right way (Monday)."

Montreal coach Jacques Martin has his own take on the subject. He doesn't think the advantage is all that great because a lot of these modernized buildings like Bell Centre and Verizon Center are quite similar, save for the direction of the crowd's positive and derisive chants.

In the past, buildings such as Chicago Stadium, the Aud in Buffalo, Boston Garden and, going back to the early 1980s, Nassau Coliseum, were so unique that it was nearly impossible for the road team to steal a game, let alone a series like the Caps are determined to do at Bell Centre.

"Those rinks were different dimensions, small ice surface, fans on top of you," Martin said. "It was really an intimidating factor to play in those places. Now you don't have that anymore. I mean, all the buildings are the same dimensions with the big crowds, so it's not as much of an intimidating factor anymore."

The Canadiens' challenge is to make it intimidating on the ice, not in the stands. Washington hasn't shown any fear yet.

"They have high expectations. They're supposed to win the Stanley Cup, supposed to beat us," Canadiens left wing Michael Cammalleri said. "That's sometimes a bit of a burden. For us, it's the opposite. We do believe we can win, and we don't think anybody expects us to. That's OK with us."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl


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