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Montreal and Washington both sold out every home game this season, but they are still light-years apart on hockey fanaticism and legacy. The Canadiens have 24 NHL titles; the Capitals have none and have been to the finals only once — when they benefited from a slew of upsets that opened the Eastern Conference half of the draw in 1998.

Of course, the Capitals’ hopes begin and end with Ovechkin, who is on pace to become one of the all-time greats but will need to win a title to fully justify such praise. He’s had moments good and bad this season — including a pair of suspensions, his first significant injury and a disappointing performance by his Russian team at the Olympics. Still, despite missing 10 games, he nearly won the scoring title, reached the 50-goal mark again and is a favorite to win his third straight MVP.

Now it’s a matter of channeling all that energy on hockey’s biggest stage, even if it means leaving practice early a couple of days before Game 1.”Alex loves the limelight, while others shy away from it,” Boudreau said. “That’s why he loves playing in Montreal — because that’s where the most attention is if you go to Canada.”

Notes: A day after being announced as the starting goaltender, G Jose Theodore took a puck off his knee and had to leave practice early. Boudreau said Theodore had a “stinger” and was pulled for precautionary reasons. Asked if he had any concerns about Theodore playing Thursday, the coach answered: “None.” … C Nicklas Backstrom returned to practice after staying home Tuesday with an illness. “I was sick. I was laying in bed all day,” he said. “I’ll be fine.” … Boudreau, while explaining why he hasn’t restricted media access to his players, uttered words you’d never hear from an NFL coach: “I’ve got to believe that a 10-minute interview or a 5-minute interview is not going to lose their focus. And if it does, we’ve got the wrong guys.”


Associated Press freelance writer Sean Farrell in Montreal contributed to this report.

Game 1: April 15 at Washington, 7 p.m. ET, CSN, Versus
Game 2: April 17 at Washington, 7 p.m. ET, CSN, Versus
Game 3: April 19 at Montreal, 7 p.m. ET, CSN
Game 4: April 21 at Montreal, 7 p.m. ET, CSN
Game 5*: April 23 at Washington, 7 p.m. ET, CSN
Game 6*: April 26 at Montreal, 7 p.m. ET, CSN
Game 7*: April 28 at Washington, 7 p.m., CSN
* = if necessary