If the post-season odds were not already stacked against the Montreal Canadiens, Tomas Plekanec may have added some fuel to the fire on Tuesday by giving the Washington Capitals some bulletin board material.
In an interview with Montreal newspaper La Presse, Plekanec took a swipe at the Capitals' goaltending.
"It's not as though we are facing (Martin) Brodeur or (Ryan) Miller," Plekanec told La Presse. "They don't have a dominant goaltender. When you look at the goaltending matchup in this series it favours our team. I just believe that our goaltending is more solid than theirs."
"I'm not saying their goalies are bad. I'm just saying our goalies are better."
The Canadiens did not make Plekanec available to reporters following the team's morning skate on Tuesday.
While the statistics back up Plekanec's claim, the Habs' goaltending has not been head-and-shoulders above that of the Capitals this season. The Canadiens allowed 2.66 goals against a game; Washington was slightly behind them at 2.72. Montreal also held a slight advantage in terms of save percentage at .917 to the Caps' .910. Montreal registered five shutouts on the season, while Capitals goaltenders blanked the opposition only three times.
That being said, it is hard to argue against the fact that likely starter Jaroslav Halak held a distinct advantage in the regular season over either Semeyon Varlamov or Jose Theodore. Halak finished fourth among all goaltenders with a superb .924 save percentage, while both Theodore and Varlamov were well back with .911 and .909 save percentages respectively. Halak was also top 10 in goals against average at 2.40 while Varlamov was 17th with a respectable 2.55, meanwhile Theodore was posted a 2.81 goals against average for 32nd in the NHL. Halak was also stellar in leading Slovakia to a final four finish at the 2010 Olympic Games.
The playoff history of the goaltenders shows the Capitals hold a distinct advantage in terms of experience. Theodore has 49 career post-season games under his belt, including an upset of the top-seeded Boston Bruins in 2002 when he was with the Canadiens. Meanwhile, Varlamov backstopped the Caps out of a 2-0 hole to a first round series victory over the Rangers last year after replacing an ineffective Theodore. Halak has a total of three career playoff games and has never registered a victory in hockey's second season.
While Capitals' head coach Bruce Boudreau remained tight-lipped recently about who his playof starter will be, he revealed on Tuesday that Theodore would be given the nod for game one. That adds another interesting wrinkle to the series as at one point he was considered the next in a long line of dominant goaltenders in Montreal. He captured the Hart and Vezina trophies in 2002, but was unceremoniously run out of town in 2006 in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche when his personal statistics ballooned to a 3.41 goals against average and an awful .841 save percentage.
The Capitals have been sensitive towards criticism of their goaltending duo this season. So much, in fact, that team owner Ted Leonsis felt he needed to chime in and protect his netminders when Columbus Blue Jackets forward R.J. Umberger stated that he did not believe that the Caps had the goaltending or defence to win the Cup.
Plekanec's comments and statistical history aside, it is not necessarily the wisest idea to give the high-octane Capitals offence any added motivation. In a series in which many prognosticators have picked the Capitals to eliminate Montreal quickly, the Canadiens will need Plekanec's claims of goaltending dominance to be valid - or it could be a very long summer in 'La Belle Province'.