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NHL playoffs preview: No. 2 Montreal Canadiens vs. No. 7 Ottawa Senators


Erik Karlsson's near-miraculous return from injury gives Ottawa an added dimension. (Jana Chytilova/Getty Images)

Erik Karlsson's return gives the Ottawa Senators offense a new look.

ByAllan Muir

EAST PREVIEWS: Pens-IslandersCanadiens-Senators | Capitals-Rangers | Bruins-Leafs

WEST PREVIEWSHawks-Wild | Ducks-Red Wings | Canucks-Sharks | Blues-Kings

Regular-season recaps

Jan. 30:Senators 5, Canadiens 1

Feb. 3:Canadiens 2, Senators 1

Feb. 25:Senators 2, Canadiens 1 (SO)

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March 13:Canadiens 4, Senators 3

Notable injuries

Canadiens: D Alexei Emelin (knee, out for season)

Senators: F Jason Spezza (back, indefinite); Chris Phillips (lower body, day-to-day)

Montreal's keys to victory

Which Canadiens team will show up for the series opener on Thursday night: The one that lost five of six down the stretch while getting outscored 28-14 along the way? Or the one that recovered with convincing wins over Winnipeg and Toronto to close out the season and clinch the Northeast? When they're at their best, the Habs are a high-end puck possession team that boasts eight double-digit goal scorers and ranked fourth in goals-per-game, fifth in five-on-five play and sixth on the power play. To solve Ottawa's defensive maze, they'll need to be brutally effective with their transition game (powered by the silky passing of Norris Trophy-candidate P.K. Subban and Raphael Diaz) and then use their speed and net drive to keep the Sens' defenders on their heels. Keeping the puck in the Ottawa end -- and out of their own -- will be critical. The Habs allowed 2.58 goals-against per game, half a goal more than the stingy Sens. That number falls mostly on the back of Carey Price, whose sketchy second half led to him posting the worst numbers of his career. He can't simply be good in this series -- he must make the timely stops when his team needs them the most. Keep an eye on Montreal's Kid Line (Alex Galchenyuk, Lars Eller, Brendan Gallagher), which could be the offensive catalysts for the Habs.

Ottawa's keys to victory

Let's face it: The Sens are playing with house money right now. There's no way a team should lose its top center, No. 1 goalie, Norris-winning defenseman and two other pivotal contributors for most of the season and still end up with a playoff spot, but somehow this no-name cast of survivors banded together and battled their way into the dance. Now that Erik Karlsson, Craig Anderson, Milan Michalek and Jared Cowen are back in the lineup, this team poses a far greater threat than the average No. 7 seed. Health isn't all that the Sens have going for them, though. They got this far because of an uncanny ability to maintain their structure. They give up a lot of shots (23rd in the league), but severely restrict chances in the quality scoring areas. That makes life easy on Anderson, who hasn't regained the otherworldly form he flashed before a pair of injuries confined him to IR for half the season, but who still finished with a ridiculous 1.69 GAA and .941 save percentage. Having Karlsson back in the lineup makes that slight let-up easier to swallow. The Miracle Man changes the complexion of Ottawa's offense, increasing its puck possession time and effectiveness in transition. He also puts a lot of pucks on the net, including 16 in just three games since returning from his Achilles injury. Don't be surprised if the series turns on whether Karlsson or Subban performs at the higher level.



The pick

Ottawa in six: Both teams hit the skids in April, but come into this set on a bit of a high note. This sets up as a fast-paced series that will be light on physical play, but full of action. Their head-to-head shooting percentages paint a picture of seven 1-0 OT games, but don't be surprised to see more scoring than the data suggests. Look for Anderson to ultimately outplay Price, giving the first all-Canadian matchup since 2004 to the Sens.

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