On paper, the Stanley Cup playoff series between the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals that begins Thursday night appears to be a mismatch.
For the first in the franchise's history, the Capitals won the Presidents' Trophy for compiling the best regular-season record in the NHL.
In Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, Washington possesses two of the most explosive offensive weapons in the league. The team cruised to a 54-15-13 mark, topped the standings with 121 points and posted a league-best 318 goals.
While he didn't win the scoring race this season, Ovechkin notched his third 50-goal season in the last four years and finished with 109 points. Backstrom completed his breakthrough season with 101 points.
The Canadiens, meanwhile, dropped to the unenviable eighth spot in the Eastern Conference after the Flyers ousted the New York Rangers — 2-1 in a shootout — last Sunday afternoon.
Montreal heads into the playoffs losers of its last three games. In fact, it took the Canadiens until the final regular-season contest on to even earn a playoff position. Leading for most of the game, the Habs lost 4-3 in overtime to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Despite the appearance of a lopsided matchup, Montreal (39-33-10, 88 points) has played the Capitals tough this season, winning two of the four games the teams played.
"We did well against the top teams in the East, so hopefully that works out," said Canadiens forward Brian Gionta.
Still, few so-called hockey experts are predicting a long playoff run for Montreal.
"That's a good question," said Canadiens forward Michael Cammalleri. "We haven't been a league-leader all year.
"If we did a panel of you guys [reporters] now, no one would pick us to win a Stanley Cup, but we know that when we play a good game, we can beat anyone. And you never go in thinking you can't win."
A late-season surge by Jaroslav Halak should secure him the top goaltending spot for Montreal, although Carey Price played all four games against the Caps this season, posting a respectable 2-1-1 record.
"Our goaltenders did the job for us all year," said Montreal coach Jacques Martin. "[The loss to Toronto] was maybe not [Halak's] best performance, but they got us into the playoffs."With files from The Canadian Press