Things Are Starting To Heat Up For The Canadiens, And They Can Handle It
The Canadiens are coming off an impressive 6-1 win over their last non-playoff opponent of the season, the Florida Panthers. To put it bluntly, those points are valuable, but bigger challenges lie ahead. Their next five games are against Columbus, Winnipeg, Tampa Bay, Washington, and the hated Toronto Maple Leafs. The last four teams are absolute powerhouses. Columbus is a competitive team competing with Montreal for a playoff spot. Thanks, NHL schedule maker. I think and hope that the Canadiens are ready for the stretch ahead. It’s not like they’ve never played a playoff team before. Let’s look at every game left and see what kind of a challenge each poses to the Canadiens.
First Game: Canadiens at Columbus
The Canadiens and Columbus have been in a dogfight for a playoff spot in the very tight Eastern Conference. The Canadiens are currently holding a two-point edge on Columbus, but Columbus has a game in hand. This essentially turns Thursday’s tilt against Columbus into a four-point game. If the Canadiens win in regulation, they seriously endanger Columbus’s playoff chances by grabbing a four-point lead over them. If they lose against Columbus, the two teams end up tied in points, and with Columbus holding the tiebreaker advantage, they would overtake the Canadiens to get that playoff spot. The Canadiens have won the previous two contests against Columbus, so they are beatable. For some reason, pundits have plugged Columbus as the favourite in this game, even though the Canadiens have not lost in regulation in five games, have beaten Columbus twice already, and are higher-ranked in the standings. I can see the Canadiens coming out on top here.
Second Game: Canadiens at Winnipeg
My favourite team against my second favourite team. Games between these two clubs are always a treat. The Canadiens are obviously underdogs here, but not by much. The last time these two teams met, Montreal stormed to a 5-2 win. Winnipeg was in a bit of a slump then, but even then they’re still a legitimate threat game in, game out. The Canadiens are capable of beating Winnipeg. As well, Winnipeg has already clinched a playoff spot, while the Canadiens are right in the thick of the playoff race, so the Canadiens will be hungrier. The key for the Canadiens is to not be intimidated by Winnipeg’s firepower; they are still beatable, as demonstrated the last time these two teams met.
Third Game: Tampa Bay at Canadiens
I’m not delusional; I don’t think the Canadiens will win this one. Luckily, they’ve gained enough ground on their latest hot streak that they can afford to lose against Tampa. When I chronicled potential first-round matchups for the Canadiens, I said that they must avoid Tampa Bay at all costs. They can’t avoid Tampa Bay in the regular season, so they must brace themselves for a top-notch power play, a top-notch penalty kill, and an offence that boasts the likes of NHL-points-leader Nikita Kucherov, 41-goal scorer Steven Stamkos, and 90-point man Brayden Point. Tampa also has an extremely tight defense that includes Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh. Oh, and they have stalwart goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. Nice. While I don’t like this team personally, I respect them as one of the best and most exciting teams I have ever seen take to the ice. They score once, and then they score on you again, and again, and again…I just want the Canadiens to push this one to overtime, like they almost did against Tampa in December.
Fourth Game: Canadiens at Washington
This is a game the Canadiens have to win; this is a potential first-round matchup, and the Canadiens have beaten Washington before. They beat them 6-4 on December 1, and then lost 5-4 in overtime on December 19. Washington is a lethal team, sporting stars like Evgeni Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin, but the Canadiens are slightly speedier and younger. As well, Washington’s star goalie Braden Holtby has been just OK this season, with a 2.86 GAA and a .910 save percentage. These numbers simply don’t compete with Carey Price, who is back to his all-world form. The Canadiens need this game, and I think they can get it.
Final Game: Toronto Maple Leafs at Canadiens
I love games against the Leafs. The speed, the rivalry, the competitiveness, these games are electrifying. For two teams projected to be at opposite ends of the standings, these games have been surprisingly evenly matched. Two of the three games played against the Leafs so far have gone into overtime, where the Canadiens lost both of them. The third loss is one I’d rather not think about, as the Canadiens blew a 3-0 lead and allowed six unanswered goals to lose 6-3. But hey, they got that lead in the first place. This is a game that the Canadiens can push to overtime at least. Toronto does have a lethal offence, but the Canadiens will probably play harder as their playoff berth will likely be at stake, or at least the Canadiens will have the opportunity to avoid playing Tampa. That’s something that is worth playing hard for. If I don’t post for awhile after this game, it will probably be because I will get a heart attack from watching such a high-tempo, valuable game.
In conclusion, the Canadiens can realistically get six out of a possible ten points, which is likely what they need to maintain their grip on a playoff spot. If the Canadiens beat Columbus, lose in OT or beat Winnipeg, lose in regulation to Tampa, beat Washington, and lose in OT or beat Toronto, they should make the playoffs. This should be fun, boys. To quote Jesse Pollock from TSN BarDown, “Let’s quit the pitter-patter and let’s get at her”. Go Habs Go.
Signed, Le Bo