Could the Canadiens Get Past the First Round of the Playoffs?
As we all know, the Montreal Canadiens have exceeded all expectations this season, and are sitting comfortably in a playoff spot. Now the question is, how far can they go in the playoffs?
The Canadiens would most likely meet one of five teams in the first round: if they fall to the second wild card spot, they’ll play Tampa Bay. If they remain in the first wild card spot, they’ll play either the New York Islanders or the Washington Capitals, depending on who finishes first in the Metropolitan Division. If the Canadiens finish third in the Atlantic division, they could be playing a thriller of a series against Toronto. If they leapfrog Toronto and finish second place in the division, they will most likely play Boston in the first round. In any case, the first round should be fun to watch.
Many pundits have the Canadiens as “first-round fodder” or a team that will get eliminated in the first round. In reality, if you look at how the Canadiens have played against the teams mentioned above, the first round could be more evenly matched for the Canadiens than you might think.
The two Montreal-Toronto games this season have been some of the most thrilling regular season games I’ve ever watched. When the two teams went head-to-head, both games had to be settled in overtime. Toronto won both games in overtime, but the reason they did so was because overtime in the regular season is 3-on-3, which Toronto excels at. As I constantly remind the Toronto fans at school, there is no 3-on-3 in the playoffs, making overtime victories much more possible for the Canadiens, should they meet Toronto in the playoffs. As the Canadiens are one of the best 5-on-5 teams in the league, a 5-on-5 overtime is much easier for them than a 3-on-3 overtime. This is assuming that overtime is prevalent throughout the series, which it could very well be, based on what I’ve seen from Montreal and Toronto throughout the regular season. Anyway, the kids at my Toronto Maple Leaf-crazy school are calling for a Toronto sweep, but I’m not so sure. It would be a treat of a series, should it happen.
Let’s look at another potential first-round matchup, Montreal-Boston. This is another team that Montreal has a historic rivalry with, and the two teams have been very evenly matched throughout the four games they’ve played this season. Montreal won two games 3-0 and 3-2 in overtime, respectively. Boston won the other two by the same scores. Obviously, how Montreal fared playing a team in the regular season generally has little effect on how they will do against that team in the playoff series. However, the games played between the two teams shows that Montreal is very capable of beating Boston, and Boston is very capable of beating Montreal. For Montreal and Boston to meet in the first round, Montreal will have to play really well down the stretch, in order to leapfrog Toronto for second place in the Atlantic Division. This could be an indication that the Canadiens would be on fire to start the first round. The last time these two teams met, in 2014, the series turned out to be a seven-game thriller. While both teams’ rosters have changed considerably since then, I would not be surprised if we see the same type of series, should Montreal face Boston in the first round. It would be quite possible for the Canadiens to come out on top in this one.
Another potential playoff matchup is the Canadiens vs. the New York Islanders. The one game the Canadiens and the Islanders have played so far went to a shootout, and the Canadiens won. These two teams are very similar. They both are surprisingly successful, they both play a speed game and they both have relatively young forward groups, Montreal perhaps more so. This matchup would be very hard to predict, as the teams are very evenly matched. Rest assured there is plenty of possibility for the Canadiens to win this series.
This next matchup would be very interesting. Montreal vs. the Washington Capitals. The last time this happened was in 2010, when Montreal beat the Capitals in the first round. Both teams have changed considerably since then. The only player who is currently on the Canadiens and was on the Canadiens in 2010 is Carey Price. One considerable hurdle that the Canadiens need to get over is Washington’s power play. Washington has many shooting options on the power play, most notably Alex Ovechkin. A timely power play goal for Washington could be the difference maker in a series between the two teams. Fortunately, the Canadiens recently picked up two good penalty killers, Nate Thompson and Dale Weise. If these two players can give the Canadiens’ penalty kill a boost, they might be able to shut down the Washington power play. If that is the case, Montreal, being one of the best at five-on-five, would have a chance at winning the series.
The last, and hopefully the least likely, matchup is Montreal vs. Tampa Bay Lightning. This would require Montreal to play badly enough to drop to the second wild card spot. They would not be entering the playoffs on a good note. They would be facing the monstrous superteam that is Tampa Bay. Sure, Montreal played well in the 6-5 loss at the hands of Tampa, and sure, we might’ve won if Price was in net, but Tampa is too good for Montreal. Montreal’s penalty kill is no match for Tampa’s power play. Montreal’s power play is no match for Tampa’s penalty kill. You get the idea. In a special teams battle, Tampa dominates. Five-on-five is a more even battle, but Tampa, with its amazing depth on forward and defense, still outstrips Montreal. Montreal might steal a game or two, but they will not win the series.
Whether Montreal makes it out of the first round alive depends entirely on whom they’re playing. It’s all about avoiding Tampa Bay. Montreal can beat any potential matchup except for Tampa Bay. Some people may disagree. They might say that Montreal’s power play and left defence is too lacking for a trip to the second round. I agree that they are lacking right now, but how might the power play and left defence look after the trade deadline? That might be a more appropriate time to evaluate how the power play and left defence will fare in the playoffs. I believe that Montreal making it to the second round is entirely possible. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not stupid enough to try and predict anything playoff-related. People didn’t even predict the Canadiens to be in this conversation in the first place. I just think, as long as they don’t play Tampa Bay, the Canadiens have a chance.
Signed, Le Bo
P.S. Wacky prediction: Canadiens-Maple Leafs Eastern Conference Final, Jets-Flames Western Conference Final. Gary Bettman jumps off a cliff.