With a loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night, the Canadiens suffered the ignominy of a season series sweep. The Lightning are not only a recent playoff opponent, but also a division rival, and if Montreal hopes to make a run, a likely playoff opponent again this year.
With another possible playoff opponent on the schedule, the Habs find themselves in a similar situation tonight.
The Washington Capitals are coming in as Montreal's second most likely adversary. Of course, tonight's results will have a great impact on the trajectory of each squad.
As each squad delves into their final five games of the season, a number of playoff possibilities are still on the table. Depending on their standing relative to the Lightning and New York Rangers, the Habs could finish first or, second in their division, as well as first or second in the conference. This leaves the Boston Bruins and the Capitals as likely opponents, but the Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins, and New York Islanders are not out of the question. If the Ottawa Senators or Florida Panthers can make an improbable late come-back, they too must be added to the list.
Meanwhile, the Capitals are only a single point back of home-ice advantage in the first round, and second place in their division. Conversely, an ill-timed collapse, combined with more Senators wins, could leave Washington out of the playoffs entirely.
The season may be wrapping up, but there is no time to rest. Until the clock strikes 10 on April 11th, the stakes will be high for both of these teams.
How to Watch
Tale of the Tape
|48.5||Score-Adjusted Fenwick %||52.1|
|1.16||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.06|
Know Your Enemy
With a first round match-up against the Capitals quite possibly in the cards, the Habs will want to make a strong statement this evening. As usual, that statement starts with Carey Price.
If Price can overcome a fabricated April Fools' Day injury to earn the the start, he'll have to compete with a contemporary on the NHL's statistical leaderboard to get the win. CP31 still has four headshots up on the NHL.com stats page, but if any player can compete with his accomplishments this season, it may be Alex Ovechkin.
Ovechkin has continued his historically impressive run of success, scoring his 50th goal of the season earlier this week. When Ovi next lights the lamp, he'll tear down another impressive statistical monument.
The Russian sniper is tied with Caps legend Peter Bondra at 472 goals, most all-time among Capitals players. It's only a matter of time before Ovechkin takes over, and given his track record against Montreal, there's a pretty fair chance it'll be tonight.
The Great 8 is a point-per-game player against the Habs, earning 20 goals and 36 points in 35 games. Symbolic of his ever dangerous stature, Ovechkin has also managed to launch 4.6 shots per game toward the Habs net.
Whether on the powerplay or at even strength, Ovechkin is the centrepiece of one of the league's most potent offences. As a squad that admitted to defensive breakdowns after allowing four goals (plus an empty netter) to another awesome offence on Monday, the Canadiens will have to find a way to rebound quickly if they want to make amends tonight.
Last Time Out
The Habs have contained that offence so far, allowing only two goals through two games against Washington this year. Both games resulted in Canadiens victories, meaning that regardless of tonight's outcome, the Canadiens have won their first season series over the Capitals since 2007-08.
Last time out, playing on Super Bowl weekend, the two teams duelled to a fairly low event game. Combined, they didn't quite make it to 100 shot attempts, and only one goal was scored.
The Habs played better as the game went on, but even when they amped up the pressure in the third period, Braden Holtby was excellent. Unfortunately, the Caps keeper decided to get the most out of his trip to Montreal, and went for the full Carey Price experience.
Holtby carried a shutout into overtime, but had it broken by a beautiful tip by Max Pacioretty. Tomas Plekanec carried the puck into the offensive corner and threw it out front, where Pacioretty deftly deflected it in for the win.
Nonetheless, Holtby's play extended his excellent track record against the Habs. He has a 5-0-2 record against Les Tricolore, supported by a .964 save percentage and a goals against average under one.
For the second consecutive game, the Habs will run into a team with all the pieces required to extend their season into May and beyond. And unless the defensive play improves, the Canadiens may need another performance worthy of posting Carey Price's photo on NHL.com.