Canadiens, Senators miniseries reveals less than expected

Shea Weber had one, Andrei Markov potted two and Montreal remain first in the Atlantic with win over Ottawa.

MONTREAL— We put too much stock into this miniseries.

The truth is that three games over eight days, played between bitter rivals while the Atlantic Division lead hung in the balance, revealed less about the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators than expected.

With the Stanley Cup Playoffs right around the corner, and with both teams headed for them, we expected this to offer us perspective on how these teams might fare in games of greater significance come mid-April. But because of the one-sided nature of them—with Montreal beating Ottawa 3-1 on Saturday to make it a clean sweep—and because they hardly resembled playoff games, we couldn’t draw any firm conclusions about either team.

Neither could they.

"It definitely says a lot," said Canadiens defenceman Shea Weber, who opened the scoring in Saturday’s game by blasting his 17th goal of the year right through Senators goaltender Craig Anderson.

But Weber wouldn’t elaborate, and he was quick to point out that the seven games remaining on Montreal’s schedule could reveal just as much.

"We showed a lot of character in those games," said Canadiens defenceman Andrei Markov, who set Weber up and added his team’s other two goals.

But in the same breath Markov made mention of the two games his team lost earlier this week to non-playoff competitors in the Detroit Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes to illustrate how their good showing against the Senators shouldn’t be blown out of proportion.

And if you thought the Senators would be devastated by the outcome, after being out-scored 11-5 over the three games and out-played for the majority of each one of them, they weren’t.

Not that they weren’t disappointed.

"We had a chance to redeem ourselves for the last two meetings with Montreal, but we just came up short," said Senators forward Zack Smith.

But notching two big wins this week over the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins made it clear they could rise to the occasion when called upon.

"I’m confident in our team and in our effort," said Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who scored Ottawa’s only goal on Saturday. "We’re facing really good teams, some that are already in the playoffs, and we keep pushing."

It’s not as if the Senators’ character could be indicted based on these games with Montreal.

As Senators coach Guy Boucher pointed out after Saturday’s game, they’ve already surpassed expectations this season by notching 90 points in 74 games and by narrowing what was once a 12-point deficit to the Canadiens in the standings to three points.

"Our goal has always been make the playoffs," said Boucher. "Wherever, in any spot, against anybody, and that goal has not changed. People want to make it something else, we have never made it something else. Our group is learning every day, we’ve faced so much adversity this year, and we’re in a spot a lot of people didn’t think we’d be in."

The Senators managed to stay within striking distance of the Canadiens without Anderson in net for nearly half of their season. They lost Clarke MacArthur before the season even got underway, and they’ve persevered in spite of injuries to other key players like Mark Stone, Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris and Marc Methot.

They have reason to believe they’ll bounce back from this, too. And how the team responds to these three late-season losses to the Canadiens will likely be a greater indication of what we should expect to see from them in the playoffs—should they make them.

The Senators will close out the month of March with games against the hardnosed Philadelphia Flyers and a Minnesota Wild team that’s been dominant for most of the season—regardless of its poor showing in recent weeks, dropping eight of its last 10 games.

Six games in April—three of them to be played against teams fighting tooth and nail to cement their respective spots in the playoff picture—will test the Senators’ resolve as well.

Meanwhile, the Canadiens wrap up their five-game home stand by welcoming floundering teams in the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers, and then they close out their regular season with five games against non-playoff teams.

"There’s no time to relax now," said Markov.

He’s right, because if they fail to win the majority of those games, what they showed against Ottawa won’t be worth much.

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