For the last few weeks of the hockey season, I was worried about who the Canadiens were going to play against in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. As I watched the Eastern Conference wild card position take shape, it was assumed that Montreal was going to finish in the top two spots. Ottawa was playing great hockey, and their goalie, Andrew "The Hamburglar" Hammond, was providing some outstanding goaltending. The Senators continued to win night after night, and went from being an after-thought in late January to a serious playoff contender.
Fast forward to Saturday, when the Senators faced the Philadelphia Flyers in the early afternoon, while the Canadiens were to play Toronto later that night. After Ottawa beat the Flyers in the afternoon, a win for the Habs meant facing the Senators.
I don't know about you, but I would much rather have the Habs play Detroit than Ottawa. Montreal has handled the Red Wings this relative easethsi season, while Ottawa has had Montreal's number. Ultimately, the Habs won 4-3 in a shoot out, and now have to face the Senators in the first round, starting Wednesday, April 16th.
In their brief playoff history, Ottawa has owned the Canadiens. The painful memory of the 2013 playoff match up has many Habs' fans concerned. Personally, I DID NOT want Montreal to face the Senators in the first round.
What do I think will happen? Well lets examine the results so far:
- Ottawa finished the season on a 22-4-4 run, one of the best in the league. Their goalie, Hammond posted a sparkling .941 save percentage and we thought Price's average was good. What is even more alarming is that Price seemed to be less focused in the last four or five games he played. And his average showed it; he had a poor .895 save percentage in his last half dozen games. Not the way you want to go into the playoffs.
- The Canadiens' leading goal scorer and point leader, Max Pacioretty, may be unavailable to start the series against Ottawa, while the Senators' rookies lit it up and carried the Sens into playoff positioning. Mark Stone has led the Senators with 26 goals ( +/- 21) and played some outstanding hockey. Mike Hoffman, another great find for Ottawa, has chipped in with 21 goals and a +/- of 16. The Canadiens' rely heavily on goaltender Carey Price to win close games. Ottawa, on the other hand, has scored 238 goals to our 221. Despite a recent scoring spurt by the Habs to end the season, how long can that last without Pacioretty's contributions?
- Finally, there is the question of team toughness. Every time the Senators play the Canadiens, they seem to get the best of them physically. The Habs lack the nastiness that Ottawa comes to the rink with every game. If Ottawa starts the series and establishes their physical domination early, then some players may be intimidated, as has been the case in the past with forwards David Desharmais and Tomas Plekanec.
For the Canadiens to win the series, they need:
Carey Price can bring his A+ game
Offensive contributions from the third and fourth lines.
The power-play must continue to be 20+% efficient, as they have of late.
To show some backbone, and not fear the Senators' physicality.
If not, the Habs may find themselves on the golf course after the 5th game.
What do you think the Habs will do? Do they have it in them to continue past first round?