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Habs look to end home playoff losing streak in do-or-die game against Capitals

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

BROSSARD, Que. - A day after extending their playoff season, the Montreal Canadiens chose to kick back and relax.

There was a short team meeting and a workout in the gym but the players who took part in Friday night's 2-1 victory in Washington stayed off the ice Saturday and instead got to enjoy a sunny spring day. They'll return to the Sunday to get ready to try to stave off elimination for a second straight game.

The Capitals lead the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series 3-2 and can secure a second-round berth with a win Monday night at the Bell Centre.

''Mentally it has to be a shut down day,'' said Hal Gill, who teams with Josh Gorges on Montreal's top shut down defence pairing. ''Physically we came in and did a little workout, trying to get back to feeling good.

''But it's stressful when you're playing in a game like that, not just physically but mentally. You're taxed the whole way through the game and it's nice to just come in and chill.''

The Canadiens were thought to be left for dead when they were beaten twice on home ice last week and on the brink of elimination. But a solid 37-save effort from goaltender Jaroslav Halak and a strong team game gave them their second road win of the series.

Mike Cammalleri and Travis Moen scored in the opening 7:01 of play and Montreal held on against a more talented but perhaps overconfident Capitals squad.

''It was a big win for us,'' said Gill. ''We have a tough test ahead of us, but that was a good one. We worked hard for that.

''Right now it's all about getting the win. We've played well in stretches. I think that was our best total effort and that's encouraging. We had some really good periods in other games and just kind of gave it up. We'd have a 10-minute segment where we lost it.''

That assessment would apply to both games played thus far at the Bell Centre.

After winning 3-2 on overtime, then blowing a 4-1 lead and losing 6-5 in OT to start the series in Washington, the Canadiens came home had an excellent first period, but fell apart after giving up a short-handed goal and were blown out 5-1 in Game 3. They followed with two strong periods in Game 4, only to come undone after another short-handed goal.

That left them with six straight playoff losses at home over the last three years.

''We've played a lot better in Washington and I think we owe it to the fans to come out and have a strong performance,'' said forward Travis Moen.

Coach Jacques Martin also had his best game of the series and one of his moves was to put Moen, one of the heroes of Anaheim's Stanley Cup win in 20007, on one of the top lines with centre Scott Gomez and winger Brian Gionta. That dropped hard-skating but unproductive Benoit Pouliot to the fourth unit. Moen scored the game-winning goal and provided some muscle to an undersized line.

''Travis is the kind of guy that you can put in any situation and he'll get the job done,'' said Gill. ''I don't think we were expecting a big goal like that, but that line did a great job of carrying the play when they were on the ice. That was a huge lift for us.''

Added Martin: ''I guess I just wanted to get a different look on that line."

Another move was to limit the ice time of shaky defenders Marc-Andre Bergeron and Roman Hamrlik to a shift or two each while protecting a lead in the third and go almost exclusively with three lines. Knowing there would be three days between games, Martin saw his players would have time to recover from the extra work.

Washington coach Bruce Boudreau was not pleased with his players, who may have been guilty of assuming they had Montreal beaten and could crank up the tempo and roll over the Canadiens whenever they liked. He hoped they learned a lesson.

''It seemed like in the first 10 minutes Montreal wanted it way worse than we did,'' Boudreau said in Washington. ''Or they didn't believe that Montreal would play as hard as they did.

''If that was their thought, they were highly misguided.''

The Capitals still have some star players they need to get on track.

Alexander Semin, a scoring machine in the regular season, and centre Tomas Fleischmann have one assist each so far in the series,while Norris Trophy candidate Mike Green has only two assists.

The scoring has come from the top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble, and bonus goals from checkers like Matt Bradley, Jason Chimera and Boyd Gordon.

Canadiens defenceman Jaroslav Spacek, who did not make the trip to Washington due to a virus, had a short skate Saturday but there was no word on his availability for Game 6.


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