Thursday, April 15, 2010;
Series: Best of seven games. Season series: Capitals won 2-1-1.
Records: Capitals (Presidents' Trophy winner) 54-15-13. Canadiens (fourth in Northeast Division) 39-33-10.
With seven forwards who scored 21 or more goals, and three who tallied at least 33 times, the Capitals hold a distinct advantage. Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin are always a threat, but the most important goals could be ugly ones off the stick (or shin pad or pants) of Mike Knuble, who was signed in the offseason for the playoffs. The only Capital with his name on the Stanley Cup, the 37-year-old has five goals in his past 18 playoff contests. Montreal, meantime, scored a league-worst 132 goals at even strength and did not have a forward tally more than 28 times. Their leading scorer, Tomas Plekanec, had 70 points. That would have ranked fifth on the Capitals.
The teams match up much closer in this department. Mike Green (league-best 19 goals, 76 points) and Jeff Schultz (plus-50, also tops) have much to prove after letdowns last spring. Green struggled at both ends; Schultz got burned in the opener and did not play again. Two others to watch are Joe Corvo and rookie John Carlson. Corvo is a minus-4 since coming to Washington in March; Carlson, 20, is 12 months removed from junior hockey. The Canadiens, meantime, could have an edge at Bell Centre if Coach Jacques Martin matches top defensemen Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek against Ovechkin, who was held pointless in two of the teams' four meetings.
Based on the disparity between the clubs, a hot goalie appears to be the Canadiens' only hope of pulling a monumental upset. Jaroslav Halak seized the starting job from former phenom Carey Price and enters the playoffs with a sparkling .924 save percentage (tied for fourth best) and 2.40 goals against average (ninth). In addition to stellar regular season, the 24-year-old Czech has another edge: Washington has not faced him this season. At the other end, José Theodore's season stats (his goals against average and save percentage rank 32nd and 23rd, respectively) are pedestrian. His numbers since mid-January (20-0-3, 2.58, .922) are much better. Needless to say, the Capitals need the second-half Theodore, not the first-half version.
Capitals in 5.