Can the Montreal Canadiens Pull The Unthinkable?
With Tyler Toffoli’s overtime game-winner Monday night, the Montreal Canadiens swept the Winnipeg Jets and kept their improbable run rolling while advancing to the semifinals. Montreal has rattled off seven consecutive wins after trailing 3-1 in the first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Even more impressively, Montreal has held the lead or been tied for every minute of those seven games.
But just how far can Montreal go in the 2021 Playoffs? Can they win it all and become the first Canadian team to win a Stanley Cup since Montreal’s last win in 1993?
What’s Working for Montreal?
Montreal stifled the Jets’ offense in their second-round series, forcing Winnipeg to take low-danger shots from low-percentage scoring areas, particularly from along the blue line and from the half wall on a much sharper angle. Defensemen Shea Weber, Ben Chiarot, Jeff Petry, and Joel Edmundson have done an excellent job clearing traffic from in front of Carey Price, allowing their all-star netminder plenty of time and space to square up to pucks and make key stops.
Speaking of Price, he’s been one of the hottest goaltenders in the league during these playoffs. Price leads all playoff goaltenders in save percentage (.935) and ranks third in GAA (1.97). He also posted a shutout against Winnipeg in Game Two, making 30 saves in the effort.
Despite being one of the lowest-scoring regular season teams to advance to the playoffs, 19 Canadiens skaters have a playoff point; only the Vegas Golden Knights (with 20) have had more players record a point in the 2021 playoffs.
While stars like Tyler Toffoli (four goals, six assists) and Nick Suzuki (four goals, four assists) have been doing most of the scoring, Montreal has also gotten quality production from seasoned vets like Eric Staal (one goal, six assists) and Corey Perry (three goals, three assists) are leading by example on and off the ice. Even better, the young guns like Jesperi Kotkaniemi (four goals) and Cole Caufield (four assists) are following that example and elevating their game.
The Canadiens may not be the most overall talented team remaining in the playoffs, but they are playing a perfect system for the talent they have, with everyone bought in to team success. Considering Montreal fired head coach Claude Julien on February 24, this run is beyond impressive.
They aren’t supposed to be here, but they are, and the rest of the league had better take notice.
Who Can Stop The Habs?
Montreal’s next opponent will be the winner of the Colorado-Vegas series. Entering Tuesday, the Avalanche and Golden Knights have each won two games, with a crucial Game Five on the docket Tuesday night in Denver.
Toronto’s offense alone wasn’t enough, even after gaining a 3-1 series edge. Winnipeg couldn’t break through Price, but the defense left Connor Hellbuyck out to try as well.
Colorado would be an interesting semifinal opponent, especially for the opportunity to bust out the Quebec Nordiques throwback jerseys. Vegas has better team defense and goaltending than the Avalanche but lack the same high-end scoring.
Either would provide a great matchup against Montreal, and the Canadiens would be the series underdog either way. However, Montreal has embraced the underdog role better than any team since the 2012 Los Angeles Kings.
How Do the Odds Look?
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Canadiens have the fourth-best odds of any of the seven remaining playoff teams.
Here’s the full look:
Colorado Avalanche +225
Tampa Bay Lightning +250
Vegas Golden Knights +385
Montreal Canadiens +800
New York Islanders +800
Boston Bruins +1100
Carolina Hurricanes +3200
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