The Capitals and Montreal Canadiens meet next Thursday in a preview of a potential Stanley Cup playoff first-round matchup.
It’s the least likely one still possible with four or five games left heading into play Friday night. But there’s still a chance the two teams could reprise their memorable 2010 series. The Capitals lead the Metropolitan Division and, if they hold onto their three-point advantage, will play the first wild card in the Eastern Conference.
The Canadiens are the first team out right now, but they are tied in points with the Columbus Blue Jackets (90) and just one point behind the Carolina Hurricanes (91). The problem: Montreal has one more game played at 78 and just four to go . The Blue Jackets and Hurricanes have five games to go. That extra game, plus a difficult closing schedule (Winnipeg, Washington, Toronto, Tampa Bay) against four of the NHL’s top nine teams could spell trouble.
Here's a brief preview of what you can expect in a Washington-Montreal first round series.
Why this would be an intriguing series: There is history here. The Capitals might have won the Stanley Cup eight years earlier if not for that legendary 2010 first-round series against Montreal. Everyone remembers Jaroslav Halak and his heroics in goal to stop everything Washington threw at him the final three games and shock the Presidents’ Trophy winners by rallying from a 3-1 series deficit. It is still shocking. Add in it’s the defending Stanley Cup champs against the franchise that has won more than any other and that is a big Canadian market with a massive fanbase and you have pure gold. Oh – and Alex Ovechkin LOVES to play in Montreal, which has quickly rebuilt its team on the fly after missing the playoffs two of the past three seasons.
Why Montreal would be a favorable matchup for the Caps: Not sure this team has enough firepower once it gets to the postseason. Max Domi is the most skilled player (69 points) and Brendan Gallagher (33) has a game made for the playoffs. But Domi (24), Phillip Danault (26) and Jesperi Kotkaniemi (18) are an awfully young set of centers to match up with the Caps (Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller). The blueline features Shea Weber and his powerhouse shot and he’d give them a weapon to deploy against Alex Ovechkin and Washington’s top line. But the Canadiens don’t have the depth to match the Capitals’ top-five offense (267 goals). Montreal might only have two players top 60 points. The Capitals should have four over 70.
Why Montreal would be a tough matchup for the Caps: There is one common denominator that would make the series interesting no matter what: A goalie who could steal a series on his own. Carey Price was just 22 in 2010 and the Caps shelled him for six goals on 59 shots in two appearances. He’s gone on to become one of the NHL’s best goalies and won the Vezina Trophy in 2015. At 31, Price is the backbone of a scrappy, better-than-expected team. He has a .917 save percentage, which is 15thoverall. But there’s always the fear he could elevate his game even higher in the postseason. Montreal might have to sneak into the playoffs. But Price will give them a punchers’ chance no matter who they play.
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