Puck Daddy - NHL

The 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us, in all of their delicious glory. We'll be previewing each first-round series this week and providing you with a sugar rush through our poorly executed dessert porn theme. Check out all the previews to find out who takes the ... er, taco.

The Canadiens are the underdogs in this series. Big time. This much we know. But Michael Cammalleri(notes) isn't sweating that, according to the AP:

"I think we relish the opportunity to play the team that everybody's picking to win the Stanley Cup. ... I think we know how good they are. We know what they're capable of, and if you beat them in the first round you've knocked off the team that was supposed to be the Cup champs, and all of a sudden you've got that Mr. Momentum on your side, right?"

(Cue the Mr. Momentum Jersey Foul in D.C., we're sure.)

Coming up, a breakdown of the Capitals and the Canadiens, in a series that may be decided by who plays well between the pipes and who stays out of the sin bin.

#1 Washington Capitals vs.  #8 Montreal Canadiens

Thursday, April 15 at Washington, 7:00 p.m. TSN, VERSUS
Saturday, April 17 at Washington, 7:00 p.m. TSN, VERSUS
Monday, April 19 at Montreal, 7:00 p.m. TSN
Wednesday, April 21 at Montreal, 7:00 p.m. TSN
*Friday, April 23 at Washington, 7:00 p.m. TSN, VERSUS
*Monday, April 26 at Montreal, 7:00 p.m. TSN, VERSUS
*Wednesday, April 28 at Washington, TBD TSN

* If Necessary/JIP: Joined in Progress

Forwards

The numbers for the Capitals' top forwards are just awesome: 50 goals and 109 points for Alex Ovechkin(notes); 33 goals and 101 points for Nicklas Backstrom(notes); and 40 goals and 84 points for Alex Semin. But they only give a hint of the waves of offense these players and their teammates can unleash when the Caps are rolling.

This is a much better team up front than last season. Mike Knuble(notes) provides the net presence they sorely lacked last year, and scored 29 goals. Brooks Laich(notes) (25 goals) is one of the conference's best two-way forwards. The additions of Eric Belanger(notes) and Jason Chimera(notes) improved total team defense and deepened this group of forwards.

Montreal's forwards are forever goofed on for their lack of size, which really takes away from time better spent goofing on their lack of production. Outside of Tomas Plekanec's(notes) 70-point free-agent-to-be campaign, the rest of the Canadiens attack has been banged up (Brian Gionta(notes), Michael Cammalleri) or inconsistent (Scott Gomez(notes) be thy name).

Cammalleri's a key to this series. He has two assists and is a minus-4 since returning from injury, and he's a player that can create 5-on-5 and on the power play, where Montreal has to be good to have a prayer.

Dominic Moore(notes) will be tasked with being the Canadiens' best checking option at center.

 Take The Cake, and it's really not even a contest. 

Defense

From the drop of the puck in Game 1, the focus will be on Mike Green's(notes) attempt to atone for his postseason flop last year. He was too often a non-factor and at times a liability. This season, he and Jeff Schultz(notes) were a combined plus-89. Which is pretty OK, by our math.

Morrisonn/Corvo and Poti/Carlson figure to be the other pairings. Again, the knock on this group is that they lack the lockdown defensive pairing they may need deeper in the playoffs, but that shouldn't affect them in this series.

The season Andrei Markov(notes) had after returning from injury was remarkable: 34 points in 45 games, and a team-best plus-11. Roman Hamrlik(notes) and Jaroslav Spacek(notes) are a solid veteran duo, and Josh Gorges(notes) and the USS Hal Gill(notes) have made up the third pairing for most of the campaign.

 Takes The Cake. Veteran group that can play well in front of the goalie. Speaking of which ...

Goaltending

Was Plekanec right? Do the Canadiens have the advantage between the pipes?

There's no question that Jaroslav Halak's(notes) performance means more to Montreal than any Capitals' goalie means to Washington. The Caps can overcome an average game from Jose Theodore(notes) or Semyon Varlamov(notes); an average game from Halak means a 3-goal night for the Capitals, at a minimum.

You hate to boil a series between two teams down to these specifics, but the common thinking is that Halak's going to have to Jonas Hiller(notes) this one for the Habs to win. Although would anyone be shocked to see Varlamov, Carey Price(notes) or both in this series.

Fun fact: Neither Theo or Jaro recorded a win against the other team during the season series.

 Takes The Cake. This is no slight to Theodore, who has been better than any stats can indicate. But Montreal has a goalie that can give the Caps as many fits as Lundqvist did last season if he's on. 

Your Slice of Canadiens History:

Special Teams

Perhaps it's gamesmanship, but Bruce Boudreau said he's worried about a Montreal power play that connected five times against the Capitals in the Habs' series victory in the regular season:

"They've killed us on it," Boudreau said in Washington. "They move the puck, they shoot and they go to the net. Hopefully, we'll be able to stay out of the box."

Compounding that problem is a Capitals penalty kill (78.8 percent kill rate) was the sixth-worst in the NHL and the second-worst among playoff teams. The Montreal PP hasn't been all that sharp lately, but it could be a concern here for Washington.

That said: The Capitals power play (No. 1 in the NHL, 25.2 conversation rate) is deadly.

 Takes The Cake with an average PK and a potentially game-changing power play.

Trick Candles (The Agitators)

Maxim Lapierre(notes) is pest magnifique for the Habs, and this series would appear to be tailor-made for his talents. Other Canadiens like Travis Moen(notes) can agitate with their physical games. Moore will have to D-up players like Backstrom while attempting to get in their heads.

The Capitals have a collection of gritty forwards that can punish on every shift, like Chimera and Matt Bradley(notes). Then there's Ovechkin's hitting, which can change the dynamic of a game (and an opponent's health) in a hurry.

 Takes The Cake. Because the Caps don't have anyone that qualifies as a "super pest."

Noted Baker Giada De Laurentiis of Food Network Says ...

"Oh, hello down there Montreal Canadiens forwards, I didn't even hear you enter the kitchen. Are you thirsty for some iced tea? I have a couple of jugs. Wait, why are you just staring at me?"

Cupcakes (Goat Factor)

Outside of The Redemption Of Mike Green, the goats in this series are grazing between the pipes. Jose Theodore was chased from his starting role in last year's postseason. Jaroslav Halak is playing with the knowledge that he's got Carey Price ready to step in should he falter. And it's not exactly like Carey Price is Ken Dryden, no matter what the Montreal media wrote about him during his rookie year.

Takes The Cake, because they're playing with confidence and the Canadiens haven't exactly proven to be clutch this season.

The Baker (Coaching)

Jacques Martin's defensive pedigree will be put to the test against the Capitals' offensive juggernaut. There's been some notion floated in the media before the series that Martin can fire up with Habs; but any emotional momentum they create will be on the ice and not on the bench.

Bruce Boudreau has led this team to a Game 7 loss in the first round and a Game 7 loss in the second round. He showed last season with the goalie switch that he's willing to make bold decisions during the playoffs. Still, the style he coaches hasn't gotten this team to the finals. Yet.

 Takes The Cake, because of Boudreau's ability to manage his lineup and the psychology of his team.

Home Icing: (Home Ice Advantage)

The Capitals were 30-5-6 at home, in front of some of the most boisterous crowds in the NHL. The Rock The Red bandwagon is fired up, and D.C. is going to be a difficult place to play in the playoffs. Even if Obama doesn't show up for a game.

Montreal is also a difficult place to play, and sometimes not just for the home team.

 Takes The Cake, because they unleash the fury.

The Last Slice (Prediction)

Capitals in 5

Montreal hung on to make the postseason, while the Capitals remained a buzz-saw even at a lower gear. The Theodore-in-Montreal factor is interesting and Halak gives the Habs a shot, but Washington overpowers. Montreal's best chance: The Capitals play undisciplined hockey and the Habs make them pay on the power play, while Halak holds the fort.

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