(SportsNetwork.com) - The Ottawa Senators will try to maintain the momentum gained from their amazing run to the postseason when they visit the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday for Game 1 of a best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup.
The Senators went 21-3-3 over their final 27 games of the season and landed the East's first wild card spot in the process. The surge made a star out of previously unknown goaltender Andrew Hammond, but now the "Hamburglar" must prove himself all over again in the playoffs.
On the opposite end of the ice from Hammond will be Carey Price, who is widely regarded as the best goaltender in the world. Price carried Montreal to an Atlantic Division title this season and although he seems to be a lock to win the Vezina Trophy, he also could take home the Hart. No goaltender has won the league's MVP award since Montreal's Jose Theodore claimed it in 2002.
The 27-year-old Hammond might have been a leading candidate for the Calder Trophy if his age didn't disqualify him from the top rookie conversation. Still, he had never started a game at the NHL level until February and then went on to finish the regular season with a mind-boggling 20-1-2 record. Hammond also sported a 1.79 GAA and .941 save percentage during his 24-game run in 2014-15.
Hammond's only postseason experience as a professional came last spring at the AHL level when the Binghamton Senators were knocked out of the opening round. He struggled in that series and if the same thing happens against the Habs, head coach Dave Cameron can turn to Craig Anderson and his 23 games of NHL playoff experience.
Cameron also will be making his first foray into the NHL playoffs as a head coach. He took over the coaching job after Ottawa fired Paul MacLean in early December and kept the club from falling apart before it forced its way into the postseason with the terrific season-ending run.
Ottawa's leading scorer this season was defenseman Erik Karlsson, who is the club's best overall skater. On offense, the club is looking for sniper Bobby Ryan to rebound from a down season and also hopes that rookies Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman can continue to thrive after a strong showing in the regular season.
Price was easily the best player for Montreal in 2014-15. He led the league in wins with a 44-16-6 record and also was tops in the NHL in save percentage (.933) and goals against average (1.96) while finishing second with nine shutouts.
While the Habs had the stingiest defense in the league with 2.24 goals allowed per game, the club ranked 20th in offense with an average of 2.61 goals scored per outing. It may have an even tougher time scoring now that Montreal could begin this series without its top offensive weapon.
Max Pacioretty hasn't played since sustaining an upper-body injury rumored to be a concussion on April 5 when he was hit by Florida's Dmitry Kulikov and tumbled awkwardly into the boards. Pacioretty, who led the Habs with 37 goals, 67 points and a plus-38 rating, sat out the final two games of the regular season and the big, speedy winger's status for the start of the opening round is uncertain. He did skate on Monday for the first time since suffering the injury and has not been ruled out for Game 1.
"One thing is certain, we'll take Max back when he's ready," head coach Michel Therrien told Montreal's website "It might be [for Game 1 on] Wednesday. It might be [for Game 2 on] Friday. It might even be [for Game 3 on] Sunday. We just don't know when it will be."
Besides Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec was the only other Montreal forward to reach 60 points this season. The 32-year-old Czech centerman was second on the team in goals (24) and points (60).
Thankfully for Therrien, Montreal's defensemen are capable of boosting the offense. P.K. Subban compiled 60 points on 15 goals and 45 assists, tying the former Norris Trophy winner for second in scoring among NHL defensemen. Andrei Markov added 10 goals and 40 points from the blue line this season and helps form a strong top pairing for Montreal.
After taking the opener of the 2014-15 season series on Dec. 20, the Canadiens struggled against Ottawa and lost the final three meetings of the regular season. The Sens' three wins all came by a margin of at least two goals. Hammond won the last two encounters and stopped 69-of-73 shots (.945 save percentage) to anchor those victories.
Pacioretty had four goals and two assists over the four games against the Sens, so his health could be a major factor in determining the outcome of this series.
This marks the second playoff meeting between the Habs and Sens. Ottawa won the previous postseason encounter in quick fashion, taking the 2013 conference quarterfinals matchup in five games. Montreal was a heavily-favored No. 2 seed heading into that series before getting knocked off by the seventh-seeded Senators.
Game 2 of this series is set for Friday at Montreal's Bell Centre. The venue will switch to Ottawa for the third and fourth meetings on Sunday and Wednesday.