The Montreal Canadiens did a lot of good things in the offseason. I did pick them to get to the Stanley Cup in the preseason. I got snickers and laughs, but I was serious. I rode that wave until they faced the Vegas Golden Knights, and then I made a turn and picked them. Hey, nobody’s perfect, but getting to the Stanley Cup wasn’t a fluke for this team. Not at all.
The Canadiens weren’t a great regular season team. They barely made the playoffs. Their defense was average to below average, and their offense was fleeting.
The minute the playoffs started, a fairly new interim coach, Dominique Ducharme, wasn’t looking very good. Cole Caufield was on the bench with Alexander Romanov (who is still on the bench), and the Toronto Maple Leafs were a powerhouse offensively. When John Tavares went down the series wasn’t that affected. The Leafs were up 3-1 in the series. Then Caufield changed their season. He was the spark. That perpetual smile kept the team loose and fired up veterans like Corey Perry on the power play and the bench. Tyler Toffoli and Nick Suzuki were clicking with the kid, and Caufield set up a key overtime goal in Game 5. Suzuki was the beneficiary, and when the linemates piled on each other, it was clear that the Caufield give-n-go was something that propelled the Habs.
After the Leaf’s series, most talked about the epic collapse of the top team in the North instead of giving the Canadiens the credit they deserved. Then they played the Winnipeg Jets. Most were thinking the Canadiens couldn’t score, and the Jets’ big centers would take them down. Instead, Phillip Danault and the Habs’ top four consisting of Ben Chiarot, Shea Weber, Joel Edmundson, and Jeff Petry shut them down. They kept players out of the crease, and Carey Price saw the shots, and Danault won the face-offs. The Jets scored six games in the series and got swept.
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Here come the Knights, who were hot and lots of people’s picks to win the series. But the Hab’s speed was too much for the Knights. The Knights were getting scoring from Alex Pietrangelo, but not enough from the forwards. Sound familiar? Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, was ineffective. To the point, they asked Stone if he was injured, and the Knights star candidly denied it and proceeded to the golf course.
Montreal plays physical. They get the puck out of their zone quickly. It’s hard for their opponents to get good zone time, and when they do, they have trouble getting any traffic to try and take away the eyes of Price. Price being the master handling the puck that he is, also gets that puck going the other way as fast as anybody who has played the game. It’s like having a seventh defenseman on the ice.
Tampa will be challenged, and the Canadiens have to play as hard as they have been all playoffs long. The Islanders started to run out of gas against Tampa, and let’s see what happens with the Habs.