It wasn’t easy, but there are a few of us who knew that it could be done. We knew that the Montreal Canadiens, in spite of their lack of top-end scoring talent, had a very gritty team build for the playoffs. They were built to grind it out, with big and mean defensemen and a goaltender considered by the members of the NHLPA as the best in the league. While facing a high octane offense in the Toronto Maple Leafs, they had to beat them up physically. They did just that and came out on top, preventing the Leafs to win a first playoffs series since 2004, even after being up 3-1 in the series.
With only a day of rest before starting the next series against a well rested opponent, the Canadiens won’t have any time to lick their wounds before jumping right into it again. This time though, they’re facing a much different opponent in the Winnipeg Jets. Like the Habs, the Jets are big and physical. They took no time to outmatch the Edmonton Oilers physically and sweep that series. When the puck drops, they will have had eight full days in between games.
I’m not even going to go into the regular season’s match up between the two teams. For one, everyone else will do it and it will just be repetitive. But mostly, what happened in regular season doesn’t matter one bit. With the ridiculous schedule and the injuries, fatigue has been a huge factor. It could very well be in this series too, but it’s playoffs hockey. Players dig deeper in the playoffs and as we’ve just touched on, the Habs have plenty of veterans who have been there and done that.
Off the 14 forwards the Jets used in the previous series against the Oilers, only one is under 6-feet tall and that’s fourth-liner Mathieu Perreault. In comparison, the Canadiens have six. Unlike the Leafs, Winnipeg’s top forwards are big and use their body. They will hit, and they will hit often… and it’s going to leave marks.
What the Jets will encounter in Montreal that they didn’t as much with Edmonton, is that the Canadiens have a big and nasty top-4. Shea Weber, Ben Chiarot, Joel Edmundson and Jeff Petry are not easy to play against and they have the size and strength to compete with the Jets’ forwards.
To look for
In net, both teams rely on solid and proven goaltenders. If there’s an edge one way or another, it’s a very slight edge. This series will, in my humble opinion, boil down to how a weaker defensive group of Winnipeg against a deep group of forwards who love to put pressure on the defense.
The key to the Jets to win will be to take advantage of their power play and to minimize turnovers under the Canadiens’ relentless forecheck. They will put traffic in front of Carey Price and will make his life miserable. Josh Morrissey played almost 30 minutes per game against the Oilers. Neal Pionk and Derek Forbort played over 27 minutes each. Once you get passed those guys, it gets thin in a hurry.
For the Habs, one key will be to make Connor Hellebuyck‘s life miserable. Corey Perry and Brendan Gallagher (amongst others) will make sure of that. Trying to keep the Jets on the outside to the perimeter will be a challenge for the Canadiens’ defense in this series. Up front, it’s a matter of generating turnovers and owning the neutral zone. If the Habs can intercept pucks and use their counter-attack, they are dangerous.
We’re in for a good series folks. Here’s hoping that fatigue and refereeing don’t negatively impact the games. Go Habs Go!