2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Montreal Canadiens Have Potential To Surprise

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2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Montreal Canadiens Have Potential To Surprise
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

The 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs are upon us, and the hockey world waits in angst to see which team will hoist Lord Stanley's hardware come springtime.

In a thrilling finale to the Olympic games, hockey fans were spoiled with perhaps one of the greatest contests in the history of the game, not to mention many more thrillers in the tournament, such as Slovakia's upset of the once-mighty Russians.

However, the average fan would say that they'd rather watch the playoffs than the Olympics. The unpredictability and excitement of the springtime tournament are its greatest calling cards, with at least one upset guaranteed almost every year.

For the Montreal Canadiens, a first-round matchup against the NHL's greatest offensive force, and on the road for the first two games, is far from tantalizing.

The Habs limped into the playoffs after coming off a six-game winning streak following the Olympics with a 3-4-3 record, hardly something to write home about. 

Yet the Canadiens possess some intangibles that could lead to a more interesting series than most have predicted.

The greatest of these intangibles can be described in two words: Jaroslav Halak.

Halak has one game of playoff experience, which came two years ago in a hellish second-round defeat against the Philadelphia Flyers.

And for those who have noted that Halak has sort of come out of the blue this season, that couldn't be farther from the truth. 

The Slovak netminder almost single-handedly pushed the CH into the playoffs in the 2006-07 campaign as a rookie, as well as being named the AHL goaltender of the year that same season.

Unfortunately for Halak, the quick ascendancy to fame of Carey Price sent him spiraling down the depth chart, and he spent the majority of that season in Hamilton, where he again posted solid numbers.

This year, everyone knows about "Jaro", especially after a Herculean effort on a dark horse Slovakian team, and of course, with his shining 26-13-5 record, as well as a 92.4 percent SP to boot.

Halak's ability to put an average team on his back could very well make the difference in this series.

Past the Habs' goaltending, it is almost guaranteed that Washington will outscore the Habs in a seven-game series, with the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green. 

However, it will be interesting to see how the Capitals' goaltender, José Théodore, handles a hostile Bell Centre crowd that knows him all to well. Théodore can certainly expect chants of "Theooo, Theooo..." as soon as he steps on the ice.

It is also interesting to note that the Canadiens have not fared too badly against the Caps this season, splitting the season series 2-2. Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek usually had the task of shutting down 50-goal man Ovechkin, and they didn't do a bad job, limiting Ovie's effectiveness in all four games.

The Canadiens' offense, which has been dormant for the past month, has the potential to break out, especially with Mike Cammalleri, who has had time now to find his groove, and speedy top line of Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, and Benoit Pouliot, which is sure to cause some problems for the Caps' defense.

Although the Capitals are the overwhelming favorites to steamroll through this series, the Habs possess the sort of elements that could lead to quite a surprise.

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