Before I begin, let me start by saying this is not written in stone yet, but if the playoffs were to start with these two head-to-head, it would be the best series throughout the first round of playoff hockey. While the Capitals still require lady luck on their side, it's important to note that their chances are significantly higher considering the Flyers are going head-to-head with the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils for their final two games of the regular season. Meanwhile, the Capitals will be hosting the Florida Panthers for their final game -- not exactly an overly difficult game. Still, what we must keep in mind is that the Capitals do not control their destiny; so once again, lady luck will have to be sitting on their shoulder.
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Throwing aside all these implications, let's look at what a possible Habs vs. Caps playoffs series would deliver. The first thing you can expect is an overhaul of intensity from both clubs. You can certainly expect Capitals goaltender Cristobal Huet to raise his game to new levels in an attempt to prove his old team wrong. Ever since the 33-year old has been traded, he's polished his game to become a much more reliable netminder. Huet was often criticized for weak goals and durability issues. Both of those things have gotten considerably better since arriving in Washington, winning his last three starts with a 0.67 GAA and a .971 SV%. One thing is for certain, the goaltending battle between former teammates Carey Price and Huet would make this one of the best series in the playoffs.
While the Habs have been scorching hot lately, Price has been better. The 20-year old goaltender has raised his game to new heights ever since the departure of Huet. While he had minor problems with questionable goals earlier in the season, he has rounded his game to become an undisputed #1 goaltender in this league. The Vancouver native has accumulated 23 wins, a 2.60 GAA, a .919 SV% and 3 shutouts in 40 games played. Sensational numbers considering he's playing his rookie season -- at 20 years old! Perhaps the best contributor to Price's success is his positional play. While he possesses a huge frame at 6'3, 226 lbs., he makes himself even bigger with superb positioning. Another thing that must be mentioned is that the kid is fazed by absolutely nothing, and he's capable of keeping his cool in the biggest of games. Despite all of his impressive abilities, Price will have to follow through in the playoffs, standing as the Habs best player. As we all know, a good team means nothing in the post-season unless you have a goaltender ready to steal you games.
The second thing you can expect is goals, and a lot of them with Alexander Ovechkin in the mix. The 22-year old has become the NHL's best player this season, posting an incredible league leading 65 goals and 112 points with a +28 rating in 81 games played. His explosive speed, big hits, ferocious wrist shots and incredible intensity are what make him impossible to contain for a full 60 minutes. The Russian sensation will undoubtedly win the Rocket Richard and Art Ross Trophies respectively, with a chance for the Hart Trophy as well. While the Habs contain one of the best defensive clubs of the East, they will not be able to stop Ovechkin, just slow him down a little. While the Caps have offensive threats in Alexander Semin and Niklas Backstrom, the key to any playoff success lies with Ovechkin.
In the other end, the Habs host the best offensive club in the league this season, scoring an impressive 259 goals for. The key to their offensive success lies in Alexei Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec. The duo has been explosive in the offensive zone this season, displaying great chemistry together. Fantastic puck control, superb passing and incredible patience is what makes the Habs such a threat going into the playoffs. The club has placed themselves 1st overall on the powerplay (24.3%) because of this, and it will prove to be a huge factor once the playoffs begin. Despite the play of Kovalev and Plekanec, the Habs have had balanced scoring throughout the season, the 3rd and 4th line chipping in for offensive production. If the Habs can follow through with superb goaltending, balanced scoring and solid defensive play, there won’t be many teams who can stop them. But if you ask me, out of all the possible opponents the Habs could be facing, the Capitals should be the most feared.
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