BROSSARD, Que. – While growing up in Thornhill, Ont., Dominic Moore watched the Montreal Canadiens many times in the NHL playoffs.
Now the 29-year-old centre will get a chance to play for the Canadiens when they face the first-place Capitals in their Eastern Conference quarter-final series, which opens Thursday in Washington.
“You really look forward to the playoffs, and in a place like Montreal, it’s an extra bit special,” Moore, a former Toronto Maple Leaf, said Tuesday. “It’s so funny, when I was kid we used to get all the Montreal playoff games because the Leafs weren’t exactly always on TV at that time of year.
“So I remember sitting on the couch every night watching Hockey Night In Canada games and it seems Montreal played Boston every year.”
He got his chance only because the team he started the season with, the Florida Panthers, traded him to the Canadiens for a second-round draft pick just before the Olympic break in February.
Since then, Moore, who is strong on faceoffs with a team-best 53 per cent win rate, has become a key player for Montreal at centre on the third line with Travis Moen and Sergei Kostitsyn. Coach Jacques Martin has used the line liberally, often in key situations late in close games.
Now it will face the formidable task to trying to stop the Capitals’ league-best attack led by scoring stars Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom. The team’s supporting cast includes 20-plus goal-scorers Brooks Laich, Mike Knuble, Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr, as well as roving defenceman Mike Green with his 19 goals and 75 points.
In Washington, 101-point man Backstrom missed practice on Tuesday and coach Bruce Boudreau was sketchy with details, saying he was both hurt in the Caps’ final regular season game Sunday against Boston and that he was sick. But he said he was “probable” to play in the series opener.
Washington will have last line change at home and may want to match Ovechkin’s trio head-to-head against one of Montreal’s scoring lines, but with Washington’s depth, there will be plenty for Moore’s unit to handle.
“We have a ton of respect for that team,” Moore said. “They’ve proved all year they’re the best in the league.
“We know we’ve got a tough test, but at the same time, we’re confident in what we can do and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Boudreau also announced that former Canadien Jose Theodore, who finished the season on a 20-0-3 run, will be his starting goaltender for the playoffs and will not be on a short leash. Last year, Theodore lasted one game before Semyon Varlamov took over in goal.
Washington finished 33 points ahead of Montreal in the regular season, but they played each other evenly. Each had a win in regulation time and in overtime or a shootout, so they have identical 2-1-1 records head-to-head.
“It’s a huge challenge, but we were competitive in the regular season,” said Martin. “When you’re up against a team that explosive, you have to go with your strengths.
“Our defensive play as a team is something that allowed us to win games this year. You need to execute your game plan. Puck support is crucial. But mostly, you have to be ready to compete.”
Moore is enjoying the moment.
The Leafs sent him to Buffalo at the trade deadline in 2009 and, after the Sabres missed the playoffs, he found himself an unrestricted free agent last summer. But even though he is now on his seventh team since he broke into the NHL with the New York Rangers in 2003, he waited until the season had begun on Oct. 4 to sign a one year US$1.1-million deal with Florida.
He will be an unrestricted free agent again this summer unless he inks a new contract with Montreal.
“I wasn’t concerned,” he said. “I knew something would happen.
“I just wanted to be patient and make the right decision.”
When it became clear the Panthers would not make the playoffs, they unloaded three potential unrestricted free agents at the trade deadline – Moore, Jordan Leopold and Dennis Seidenberg.
“They made public statements about how they were going to blow up the whole team and they ended up only trading the three guys they signed in the summer on one-year deals,” he said. “But I’m glad it worked out.”
Moore said his older brother Steve, whose NHL career ended when he pounded to the ice by Todd Bertuzzi in a 2004 incident, hopes to take in a game or two of the series.
“He’s very supportive,” said Moore.
The Canadiens have kept their lines pretty much intact this week. As well as the Moore unit, they have centre Scott Gomez with Brian Gionta and Benoit Pouliot, Tomas Plekanec with Andrei Kostitsyn and Mike Cammalleri, and Maxim Lapierre with Tom Pyatt and Mathieu Darche.
The defence pairs were also the same – Andrei Markov with Marc-Andre Bergeron, Roman Hamrlik with Jaroslav Spacek and Hal Gill with Josh Gorges.
That would leave forward Ben Maxwell and defenceman Ryan O’Byrne as healthy scratches.
It will be a first taste of NHL payoff action for Pyatt.
“Your whole life you’re a fan of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and it feels weird that I’m going to be part of it, playing against the Capitals,” the 23-year-old from Thunder Bay, Ont., said. “It’s an exciting time for me.”