BROSSARD, Que. – As reporters entered the Montreal Canadiens dressing room after practice Wednesday, defenceman Jaroslav Spacek made an impromptu announcement.
“The Jaromir Jagr press conference starts at noon!” he shouted.
Spacek was referring to the brief tempest stirred up this week when Canadiens centre Tomas Plekanec was quoted as saying of the Washington Capitals goaltenders that “it’s not as if we’re facing (Martin) Brodeur or (Ryan) Miller.” Caps goalie Jose Theodore replied “Tomas who? Jagr?”
The laughs were all that was left of the so-called controversy Wednesday as the Canadiens held their final practice before flying to Washington to face the heavily favoured Capitals in Game 1 of the best-of-seven playoff series Thursday night.
“It’s pretty funny,” said Plekanec, who denied showing disrespect toward Washington’s goalies in general and Theodore in particular. “We had a little laugh about it. That’s OK. It’s playoff time and that comes with it.
“It was my quote but if it’s not mine, it would be another guy. That’s fine. We have an important game to focus on now.”
In Washington, Theodore had to leave the Capitals’ practice after being struck on the inside of his left knee by a shot. He got up and returned to the net, but left a few minutes later.
Coach Bruce Boudreau said what while it hurt, Theodore would be OK to play. Boudreau had already named the former Canadien as his starting goalie for the playoffs, ahead of Semyon Varlamov.
The Capitals are a daunting opponent for Montreal, with their array of scoring stars led by Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin, their speed, big defence and all-out attacking style.
The Caps won the President’s Trophy as the NHL’s first-place overall team with 121 points, 33 more than the eighth-seeded Canadiens.
Montreal is relying on playing a disciplined game based on strong team defence and counterattacking with their quick but mostly small forwards. Their goaltender, almost certain to be Jaroslav Halak, must be magnificent.
“You’ve got to play smart,” said centre Scott Gomez. “We can’t play run and gun against these guys.
“It’s just not going to happen. You get into that and you’re asking for trouble. And your special teams have to play almost a perfect game. That’s how good these guys are. They’ve got a great club over there.”
Montreal made wholesale changes last summer after being swept in the opening round by Boston and that included bringing in four players who have won Stanley Cups in the past – Gomez and Brian Gionta with New Jersey, Travis Moen with Anaheim and Hal Gill only last spring with Pittsburgh.
“It helps, but they’ve got guys who have had big games in the past too,” said Gomez. “That only goes so far.”
But coach Jacques Martin said the value of those veterans will increase in the post-season.
“Its really important to have these individuals, not only for the preparation, but during the action,” said Martin. “The ones who have been there a can help their teammates on how to deal with situations.”
A question for Montreal is how slow-footed defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron will hold up against the Capitals attack, especially since he plays on the right side and will no doubt see a lot of Ovechkin, a left-winger.
Bergeron, who has been playing on the first defence pair with Andrei Markov, played forward on the fourth line often this season so the Canadiens would have him in the lineup for what he’s really good at – firing the puck from the point during power plays.
But over three days of practice this week, it appeared that defenceman Ryan O’Byrne, who struggled down the stretch, would be a healthy scratch and that the team would go with only six rearguards.
Martin said only that the final lineup would be decided just before the game.
Checking centre Glen Metropolit skated with his teammates – wearing a grey no-contact jersey – for the first time since he injured a shoulder late in the season. While he appears to be healing faster than expected, Martin said he would not return any time soon. His was expected to be out six to eight weeks.