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Despite winning Atlantic Division, are Canadiens underdogs against Senators?

MONTREAL -- Second place in the overall standings and 110 points sure doesn't get you what it used to.

Judging by the number of hockey observers picking the Ottawa Senators to "upset" the Montreal Canadiens, that 11-point gap in the standings between the teams doesn't seem to exist.

Are the Habs being a little disrespected entering this series?

"It feels that way; we can use that as motivation, for sure," Canadiens winger P.A. Parenteau told ESPN.com on the eve of Wednesday's Game 1.

"But you got to give Ottawa credit, though. They're coming into the playoffs swinging. That's what you want, a lot of momentum, and they have that on their side. I think we're up to the task. We have a good hockey team, too. We have a great goalie. We're a pretty confident bunch. No question Ottawa deserves a lot of credit, though."

Hey, I picked the red-hot Senators as well, in seven games. I think it's truly a toss-up of a series.

Ottawa's season-series dominance over Montreal notwithstanding, the Senators' 21-3-3 stretch to end the season also cannot be ignored.

"Listen, with where their team is at right now, anything can happen," Habs star blueliner P.K. Subban said Tuesday when asked about some people picking Ottawa. "They're obviously playing the best hockey that they've played all year. They got a goaltender that's playing well. We know how far good goaltending can take you in this league. It can take you really far. We believe we have the best goaltender in the league. But anyone can beat anyone in the playoffs. So it doesn't surprise me [that some are picking the Senators].

"You look at what they've accomplished late in the regular season, it's something special. You can't deny that. It's going to take our best game to beat them in this series, there's no question about it."

The Habs will be without leading scorer Max Pacioretty in Game 1 on Wednesday while he covers from a suspected concussion.

Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien shrugged his shoulders when asked on Tuesday about the number of people picking the Senators, repeating a point about the league's incredible parity that his general manager Marc Bergevin made the previous day on local sports radio station TSN 690.

"Both teams are confident," Therrien said in French. "Honestly, all the teams that get into the playoffs, they're all confident to win; first of all, because they've all had good seasons. It's so demanding to make the playoffs. We are confident, and I know on the Senators' side they're confident, too. But [predictions are] the game of journalists, we honestly don't get into that. I personally don't get into that. We are in the moment, and we're making sure to be focused on the present."

Normally, you might say that was coachspeak, and deep down the Habs really do have their noses out of joint. But the reality in the everyone-is-the-same NHL is that little separates the 16 teams that made the playoffs.

So, like many of the other first-round matchups, Ottawa-Montreal indeed is up for grabs.

It promises to be a delicious series between two divisional and geographic rivals who played their first playoff series two seasons ago as if it was the fifth in a row. The 2013 first-round series, in which Ottawa upset Montreal, was a chippy set of games that featured a line brawl. It also featured Therrien losing his cool while former Senators head coach Paul MacLean pushed his buttons in postgame media gatherings.

A very calm Therrien was asked Tuesday about having evolved since that series with Ottawa.

"We all evolve; it's important to evolve, to learn, to adjust," Therrien said in French. "As a coach, I know my team and my players much better than I did a few years ago. But the important thing as well is to take your experiences, whether you're a player or a coach, and try to use that as a positive in order to get better. I look at the work here in three years, there's been a lot of improvement that's occurred within this organization."

As Subban pointed out, both teams have changed a lot since that playoff series. Everything resets now.

The showdown of Norris Trophy defensemen -- Subban versus Erik Karlsson, or P.K. versus E.K. -- in conjunction with the goalie matchup of Hart Trophy front-runner Carey Price versus the Hamburglar, Andrew Hammond, will garner most of the attention.

"This is going to be a great series," Subban said. "It's going to be back and forth, it's going to be fun to watch. Ultimately, I think it's going to come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes. Both teams have good goaltending, their team has proven that they can score goals, we've been one of the best defensive teams in the league. Something's got to give somewhere. So it will be interesting to see what happens."

Is there really a favorite and an underdog in this series? Who cares? This series is going to rock.