When the NHL and NHLPA were trying to find a suitable format for the NHL to return a lot of ideas were thrown around. We heard 31 teams, 20, 22, and 24. A lot of teams personally didn’t like the idea of giving teams on the playoff bubble life again. The league and the players finally agreed on a proposed 24 team format, and funnily enough the team sporting a .500 points percentage made the cut
That team the Montreal Canadiens and of course one of the best goaltenders on the planet, Carey Price. That decision put a lot of fear in other teams who could have the potentially daunting task of facing him in the playoffs.
During the negotiations, his name came up again this time when the league proposed a best of 3 for the play-in round. That idea was immediately squashed because teams once again feared Carey Price could steal 2 games and it wouldn’t be fair. They agreed on a 5 game series for the play in and 7 games for the regular playoffs.
Well, that’s exactly what Price did, he stole the series vs the Pittsburgh Penguins. He proved to the league that a well-rested and fully healthy Price is dangerous to opposing teams. He finished the series sporting a save percentage of .950 which is pretty impressive.
Through 4 games he had made 92 saves on 96 shots while the teams were playing 5 on 5. The 5 on 5 play of Montreal has been pretty solid and is top 3 in the league. They carry a puck possession of 60% and up which is huge and basically means they had the puck most of the game. That didn’t help Pittsburgh as they are also a speed team that likes to poses the puck and attack.
No one gave this team a chance and it was well documented when everyone said this was the most lopsided series out of all of them. They also predicted Pittsburgh would have no problem advancing in 3 games.
“We can be underdogs all day long"
That was a quote from Shea Weber on the first day the 'Habs' arrived in Toronto. He acknowledged that he and his team realized that it would take a lot to convince people they were legitimate contenders.
Montreal's head coach Claude Julien found a system that seemed to work against the dangerous Penguins. He trusted his young rookies with the responsibility of 2nd line and 3rd line duties and no doubt they showed their worth. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who probably had one of the worse seasons of his life going through multiple serious injuries, getting sent down looked like he was in the best shape of his life.
It was noted during the pause that he flew home to Finland and took the time to rehab and train; and he looked bigger and stronger than ever before when he returned. Then we have Nick Suzuki, the wild card in that Max Pacioretty trade with Vegas. Suzuki was probably one of the main reasons the 'Habs' were so successful against the Penguins. Not only did he score when his team needed goals but he was all over the ice winning puck battles, battling on the boards. Philip Danualt who has one of the best faceoff percentage in the league as the top line center also helped. The more faceoffs you the better chances you have of creating offense. Brendan Gallagher who is probably the biggest pest in the NHL, was another big factor in this series. His style of play of attacking and crashing the net makes him one of the most valuable players on the team.
On defense, we had 3 defensemen in Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, and Ben Chiarot who did a great job on the blue line. Petry scored 2 goals including an overtime winner in game 1 and the game-winning goal in game 3 which gave Montreal the crucial 2-1 series lead in this best of 5.
All these factors into why Montreal did the unthinkable and once again eliminated a potential Stanley Cup contender in the Pittsburgh Penguins.
A lot of people are thinking back to 2010 when Montreal upset Washington and Pittsburgh before losing to Philadelphia and I think as long as Carey Price can carry this team and they continue to be a lethal threat 5 on 5 this team has the potential to go far in this type of tournament.