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Canadiens Watch: In tough to go more than four

The Montreal Canadiens made their bed; now they have to try and avoid being swept under it.

The Habs stumbled to close out the regular season, meaning they’ll begin (and end) the playoffs against the league’s best team, the Washington Capitals.

Forget the fact Montreal actually took five of a possible eight points versus the Caps this year and that Jose Theodore represents a potential soft spot on a team otherwise equipped to win it all. Washington has to prove it can go beyond being a flashy offensive outfit that blows opponents out of the water, but they won’t have to worry about making many adjustments versus the Canadiens because this one won’t even be close.

Montreal’s slow defense corps is in for a world of trouble against the onslaught of Washington’s wizards up front, who are, of course, led by the sensational Alex Ovechkin. If Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek looked overwhelmed playing against the likes of Carolina and Toronto to finish the season, imagine how lead-footed they’ll appear against Ovechkin and company.

Canadiens fans will cling to hope that Jaroslav Halak will play out of his mind, while simultaneously wishing their old friend Theodore will cause nothing but headaches for his squad with a series of softies. Theodore may have a checkered playoff past, but he doesn’t need to be otherworldly to keep the Caps competitive. For the most part, Theo was solid down the stretch and he’s certainly capable of providing the kind of goaltending a team like Washington needs to win big games.

Halak, meanwhile, was likely the biggest reason Montreal even made the playoffs, though his final three outings left a little to be desired as the Habs failed to pick up a win in those contests. It will be interesting to see how much rope coach Jacques Martin gives Halak, because no matter how well the Slovak stopper played this season, there was always a sense that Carey Price was never far from being back in the crease. Halak will start Game 1 for Montreal, but it’s not inconceivable we could see Price in Game 2.

Just don’t expect either of them to be playing after Game 4.

This article also appeared in the Montreal Metro newspaper.

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursday and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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