When former general manager Bob Gainey went about completely re-shaping the Montreal Canadiens last summer, one of the main criteria he was looking for in players was playoff experience.
And now's the time it's supposed to come to good use.
The Canadiens have very few areas where they hold an edge on the mighty Washington Capitals in their first round series that gets underway Thursday night at the Verizon Center, but one is Stanley Cup rings on the roster.
The Canadiens have five of them, two for Scott Gomez and one each for Brian Gionta, Travis Moen and Hal Gill.
In addition to that, defencemen Jaroslav Spacek and Marc-Andre Bergeron were teammates on the 2006 Edmonton Oilers that came in as an eighth seed and defeated the Presidents' Trophy-winning Detroit Red Wings before marching all the way to the Stanley Cup final.
The Capitals have Mike Knuble, who won the Cup in his first full year in the NHL with the Red Wings in 1997, though he only played in three playoff games that year. Aside from that, the Caps have two players - trade-deadline acquisitions Scott Walker and Joe Corvo - who have ever made it past the second round of the playoffs.
Playoff experience on both squads
"It's not just winning the Cup, but being in big games and knowing the different levels the game can go to," said Gill, who played in the last two Stanley Cup finals with the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning it last year.
"The more you're in those situations, the better you are. You look at, well I guess it's not a good example anymore, but Tiger Woods loves those pressure situations. He excels in them, and he's in them a lot. So the more you're in them, the easier they become."
For Spacek, his situation with the Oilers in 2006 was remarkably similar to the one the Canadiens face now, and he says going through that should serve him well.
"You've got nothing to lose, you just try to win one game," he said. "After you win the game, especially on the road, all the momentum changes to your side and it puts even more pressure on the other team."
Gomez, the most-decorated member of the Canadiens warns, however, not to put too much stock into the advantage of playoff experience because Washington is a formidable opponent, which has also been through its fair share of battles.
"It helps to a degree, but at the same time they've got guys who have played big games in the past, a couple of Game 7s here and there," he said. "It only goes so far, you still have to go out and play."
The Capitals were pushed to seven games in the first round by the Rangers last year before losing to the Penguins in another Game 7 in the second round.
Norris Trophy favourite Mike Green said he can already tell that the mood is different in the Capitals room this year.
"We're ready, we're so focused right now," Green told reporters Wednesday after practice. "All this stuff in the media won't affect us this year, and I think it did in the past. We're just worried about winning."
On the injury front for Washington, first-line centre Nicklas Backstrom was back on the ice with his teammates after spending all day Tuesday in bed with an illness. Though head coach Bruce Boudreau called him questionable a day earlier, Backstrom said he'd be ready to go for Game 1.
"I'll be fine and I'm excited for it," he said.
For the Canadiens, Glen Metropolit skated with his teammates Wednesday for the first time since suffering a left shoulder injury on March 27. Metropolit, tied for the team lead in power play goals with 10 this season, was originally supposed to be out for six-to-eight weeks. Although he hasn't been cleared for contact, it appears that timetable has been accelerated.
"He's ahead of schedule, but with the nature of the injury we didn't know how he would recover or how much damage was done," Habs head coach Jacques Martin said. "We have to see if he can aggravate it any further (before deciding if he can play). It's something we'll have to address day by day."
Plekanec clears the air
Finally, Canadiens centre Tomas Plekanec addressed the "controversy" he created with his comments about the Capitals goaltending situation, when he was quoted as saying "it's not as if we're facing (Martin) Brodeur or (Ryan) Miller." He confirmed that he did say that, except there was an important aspect that was left out of the quote.
"I don't know why it came across the way it did," Plekanec said, surrounded by a phalanx of reporters. "I said they are both really good goalies, it's just that they aren't Brodeur or Miller. All that came out was the second part of the sentence."