When everyone thought the Montreal Canadiens would lose against Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils on Saturday, Jacques Martin’s team decided to play on of its most inspired road game of the season, winning 3-1 on Mathieu Darche’s two-goal performance. Brodeur made many spectacular saves to keep is hapless team in the game to finally stop 26 out of 29 shots, PK Subban scoring the other goal.
The soon-to-be 39 year old goalie has a 40-17-5 record in 62 games against Montreal to with an incredible 1.76 GAA and a great 9.33 save %; however, his performance was not enough to beat Carey Price and the Habs, and as a result, the Devils were officially eliminated from playoff contention.
The win gives the Canadiens 91 points with 79 games places (42-30-7), four more than the Carolina Hurricanes who sit in 9th place in the Eastern Conference. A win against the Blackhawks, the Senators or the Maple Leafs will give the Habs 93 points, which will clinch their playoff berth. The Canadiens have already 42 wins (four more than the Canes). Also, the Habs are eight points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for 5th place, so they will most likely finish between 6th and 8th in the conference.
The team will also welcome back veteran Jaroslav Spacek in the lineup Thursday in Ottawa or Saturday in Toronto. Spacek’s absence has been felt lately on defense, especially on the puck transition and mobility side as Paul Mara and Brent Sopel are slower than a bus stopped at a red light.
Max Pacioerrty has resumed skating, but we still don’t know if he’ll return this season due to the severity of the injury he sustained.
This means the Canadiens will start the playoffs on the road again against one of the top-three teams in conference.
Teams Games Points
1. x-Philadelphia 79 103
2. x-Washington 79 103
3. y-Boston 78 99
4. x-Pittsburgh 79 100
5. x-Tampa Bay 79 99
6. Montreal 79 91
7. Buffalo 79 90
8. NY Rangers 79 89
9. Carolina 79 87
While there is an outside chance the Penguins or the Lightning catch up a division leader, this seems fairly unlikely so we’ll concentrate on the top three seeds and see what chances the Canadiens stand against these three powerful teams.
As the following cliches “anything can happen in the playoffs” and “the playoffs is when the real season really starts” say, even if you’re the underdog, nothing is impossible come April, just ask Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby after last year’s playoffs…
Now that last playoff run hero, Jaroslav Halak, is gone to St. Louis (where he will play golf in one week), the Canadiens fans have to wonder if his replacement, Carey Price, will pull a rabbit out of his hat and propel the Blue Blanc Rouge fans into another surprising journey deep into May for a second consecutive year.
The most likely opponent are the Bruins, which the Canadiens would face if the playoffs started today. Their arch-rival beat them 7-0 in their last match-up in Boston, a game where the Canadiens fell flat and proved to be an easy prey for the big hungry bears, despite all the hype surrounding the revenge match-up following the Chara-Pacioretty incident. However, what most people forget is that the Canadiens are 4-2 against Boston this season and while Tim Thomas is having a Vezina-worthy season, Montreal has Thomas’ number over his career (he’s only 10-14-4 with a subpar 3.05 GAA and .906 save %).
The biggest challenge against Boston lies in their team’s size, grit and physicality. They play a bruising style that can be intimidating at time, especially with players like Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, Shawn Thornton, Adam McQuaid and Nathan Horton.
The Canadiens have had success in the past when took the early lead and set the pace of the game using their speed and skill, and capitalizing on their scoring chances and the power play. This series would undoubtedly be emotional for both teams given their history, both during the season and the playoffs.
The Capitals will most likely win the Southeast division after going on a tear the past six weeks. Washington enters the post-season facing serious questions about their capacity to go deep in the playoffs given their past failures, despite their recent regular season success. The addition of savvy veterans such as Jason Arnott and Scott Hannan, who both have extensive playoff experience will certainly be a key to their spring success.
After an early exit at the hands of our Canadiens last spring, head coach Bruce Boudreau changed the Capitals’ style of play to suit go deeper in the playoffs. After a difficult period of adaptation in January, his troops have adopted the new style successfully and have been very good in close games, winning eight one-goal games, in March only.
Their goaltending is still their biggest concern as last year starter, Jose Theodore, is now in Minnesota, and his replacement, Semyon Varlamov, is more often than not on the shelf with various ailments. Michael Neuvirth, who will be the most likely starter come the playoffs, has a big total of zero playoff appearance in his career, but that doesn’t mean a rookie goalie can be sharp and make clutch saves in crunch time. Just ask the Habs fans about Cam Ward in 2006.
The Capitals won the season head-to-head three games to one and are the clear-cut favorites should both teams face each other once again in the playoffs.
The Flyers are the favorites to win it all in the East this season after surprising everyone last season as underdogs and losing against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup final. The have depth both at forward and on defense, with a great mix of youngsters and veterans. They’re pretty fast, big, skilled and clutch, just ask the Bruins who a 3-0 lead both in the series and in game 7.
The Canadiens lost in five easy games against the Flyers last spring in the Eastern Conference final and have had no success against them in the playoffs recently, but at least RJ Umberger and Michael Leighton are not playing for them anymore, well Leighton is playing for their AHL affiliate, duh.
However, the Flyers have the same concerns as the Caps in front of the goal. Sergei Bobrovsky has been good, but inconsistent all season-long and with Brian Boucher backing him up, one has to wonder if the Broad Street Bullies would not call Leighton up once he doesn’t have to clear re-entry waivers? But unless a complete collapse from Bobrovsky he should be the starter.
Just like Capitals, Philadelphia won the season head-to-head three games to one and are the heavy favorites if both teams end up facing each other once again in the playoffs.
As you can see, the Canadiens will have a tough time winning one round this season, even more so than last year, and they will need a sensational performance from their star goalie Carey Price and another exceptional playoffs run from veterans like Michael Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez (is he still hibernating?) and Roman Hamrlik.
The Canadiens added a Stanley Cup winner in Brent Sopel (with the Hawks in 2010) due their squad, so experience is certainly one of the advantages Montreal boasts over some of his potential opponents, with the like of Hal Gill, Travis Moen, Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Sopel.
I sincerely hope the Habs win at least one series, as I need at least two weeks to grow a respectable playoff beard (not Crosby-like) at the great displeasure of my girlfriend.
Who would you rather face among the three teams mentioned above?
I would go with the Capitals, as the Canadiens have proven they can beat them, Mike Green is still suffering from concussion-like symptoms and their goaltending is the most suspect of all three teams.
About the Author: Working as a freelance sports writer and translator, Fred, 33, graduated from Laval University in Quebec City, earning a bachelor of translation in 2002. An avid fan of the Northeast division teams, he's also a long time fan of the Washington Capitals and the Montreal Canadiens. Fred also speaks fluently French and Spanish. http://twitter.com/FredPoulin98 www.traductions-quebec.com