To give you an idea of how much of an underdog the Montreal Canadiens were, not a single Sportsnet analyst picked them to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not one.
It’s not often that you see an entire panel of experienced hockey writers be so wrong.
The Canadiens shocked the Pittsburgh Penguins, beating them in four games and allowing just eight goals in that span, including none in the series-clincher.
Let me remind you that before the Coronavirus-induced break, the Canadiens were 31-31-9, had lost four games to the awful Detroit Red Wings, lost eight games in a row twice, and had a one percent chance of making the playoffs.
This begs the question: how did the Canadiens beat the Penguins?
The Carey Price Factor
On any given night, Carey Price can be a difference-maker. In a short series after four months of rest, however, he is the ultimate
X-factor. Price played so well, that a commentator compared him to a young Ken Dryden – high praise for any goaltender. The numbers speak for themselves: He saved 126 of 133 shots, for a pristine .947 save percentage. Price also had a .955 save percentage at 5-on-5, and a 1.67 goals-against average overall. Price held key players Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel each to only three points, and the mighty Evgeni Malkin only managed an assist. The Canadiens were regularly outshot throughout the series, but Price was there all the time, being his usual calm self. The Penguins would have a prime scoring chance from the slot, and Price would catch the puck like he was playing baseball at the park on a Saturday afternoon. You get the idea. Price’s calm manner was very useful when the Canadiens were down 3-1 in game three and needed to stage a comeback. He made several key saves that kept the game in reach for the Canadiens. Any accusations that Price is somehow washed up are now proven false. Price can still be a game-changer.
Of course, Carey Price did not win the series by himself. He had a little help from his friends, the defence. Jeff Petry, Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot – the “Trident” – led the team in TOI/60 minutes with each playing over 24 minutes per game. Weber and Chiarot played against Evgeni Malkin, while Petry, together with Brett Kulak, played against Sidney Crosby. The defence more than held their own. A good indication of defensive ability is the save percentage while the player in question is on the ice. While Shea Weber was on the ice, the team had an excellent .945 save percentage. While Ben Chiarot was on the ice, the team had an astounding .980 save percentage. The team’s save percentage dipped a bit when Jeff Petry was on the ice, but it was still respectable at .910, and let’s not forget that Jeff Petry was playing against Sidney Crosby. Another indicator of the defence’s success is the penalty kill. The penalty kill limited the Penguins to just three power play goals, and kept almost all shots to the outside. The penalty kill also came through at key moments, like when Paul Byron took a penalty in the last few minutes of game four, when the Canadiens had a one-goal lead. It is clear that the defence performed exceptionally against a very tough opponent. Claude Julien even went so far as to call Weber, Petry and Chiarot the “Big Three”, a term not used since the days of Serge Savard, Larry Robinson and Guy Lapointe. Weber, Petry and Chiarot played well, but a new nickname was in order, so we settled on “Trident”.
Goals From Unlikely Sources
Key offensive players for the Canadiens, like Tomas Tatar, Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin, contributed only sparingly to the Canadiens’ offence. Granted, when you spend your game defending against Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, goal-scoring opportunities can be hard to come by. Therefore, the Canadiens had to rely on some depth forwards, the ones not playing against the Penguins’ top stars, to score. They did just that. 20-year-olds Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki each had two points, with Suzuki still playing against Malkin and Crosby. Noted playoff performer Artturi Lehkonen scored a huge goal in game four, and Shea Weber and Jeff Petry each had two goals. Weber and Paul Byron both had four points. That Weber and Petry managed to get on the scoresheet was a bonus, considering they had their hands full already. It’s guys like Paul Byron who were relied on to provide scoring. Without secondary scoring, the Canadiens would have had no offence, and I shudder to think how the series would have turned out then.
The Canadiens will play the Philadelphia Flyers in the next round of the playoffs. I will provide a preview shortly.
Meanwhile, phase two of the draft lottery will take place tomorrow night, meaning we’ll finally know who gets Alexis Lafrenière. Fingers crossed that it will be a team outside of the Eastern Conference.
Si les Maple Leafs ou les Penguins gagneront la loterie, je perdrai mon esprit, tabarouette!
Stay safe, and Wear. A. Mask.
Go Habs Go.
Signed, Le Bo