You know when they say that hockey is played on the ice? If we went by the standings and the regular season, why play the game, right? Few took the Montreal Canadiens to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs. All of them were pretty proud of their prediction when Toronto took a 3-1 series lead. Moving onto a series against a well rested Winnipeg Jets team, the Habs didn’t stand a chance once again, according to hockey “expert”. To borrow a line from late Rodney Dangerfield, “They get no respect”. But since game 5 of the Toronto series, the Canadiens have been dominant. In fact, they have yet to trail at any point in a game since game 4 or that series.
When we broke down the keys to this second round for the Canadiens, we talked about a match-up between the Jets’ big bodies up front and the Habs’ big and mean top-4 on defense. As it turns out, it’s exactly what happened allowing the Habs to sweep the series in four games. This defense that fans and media were complaining about all year for being too slow is proving to be perfectly built for playoffs hockey. They handled the Jets’ big forwards very well, allowing Carey Price to be… Carey Price.
In the series, the Canadiens got goals from 10 different players. Tyler Toffoli led the offense with five points in four games. Nick Suzuki was close second with four, and then you have seven other players with three points each.
The Canadiens are certainly benefiting from rolling four lines up front and players don’t mind one bit. The “fourth line” is just a name, as they are certainly having a bigger impact than a regular fourth line would have. As a team, the Habs dominated this series from start to finish.
Win it for Jake
Everyone knew that this series was going to be a physical one. Montreal was the NHL’s most physical team in regular season, while the Jets were hitting everything in sight in their series against the Edmonton Oilers. What we did not expect was for the Canadiens frustrating Mark Scheifele to the point of him loosing his mind at the end of game one and target Jake Evans in a vulnerable position after scoring an empty net goal. As we know, Scheifele was suspended four games and the Jets had to play without their top line centre the rest of the series.
Speaking of this unfortunate event, many people around hockey, fans included, have gained much respect for Nikolaj Ehlers. The way he protected Evans in the scrum ensuing the hit was commendable. I’ve discussed with some friends who feel like we’re over doing it with the praise for him as they feel it’s “natural” to do that. My defense was that he’s the only one who did it. Not even a Habs’ player did that. Has anyone noticed that the Canadiens’ players didn’t rough him up in this series? They appreciated the gesture as well.
Dubois de chauffage
Pierre-Luc Dubois was a huge disappointment to me. In fact, talk about a trade that hasn’t worked out for either team as Patrik Laine hasn’t taken off in Columbus either. The Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts native was a non-factor in this series. He’s played on every line, even being demoted to fourth line duty in the last game. Was he injured? Who knows. But he wasn’t the player we can expect.
Where I draw the line is when fans and media talk about how much he would have cost the Habs’ to obtain, then make a parallel between his performance with the Jets and transpose it in Montreal. That’s not how it works folks. Just look at Taylor Hall in Buffalo, and the way he’s playing in Boston. Max Domi had nine goals in Arizona prior to landing in Montreal. Josh Anderson had one goal in Columbus. You get my drift. Teammates, market, coaching, systems, are all important factors affecting a player’s performances. Maybe he would have performed the same. But maybe he would have taken the next step with the Habs too. Let’s not jump to conclusions.
The Canadiens have now won seven consecutive games. During that span, Price is 7-0-0 with a 1.64 goals against average and a .943 saves percentage, with one shutout.
They are waiting for the winner of the series between the Colorado Avalanche and the Vegas Golden Knights. Either way, the Habs will be underdogs… a role that they really seem to embrace. If I had to choose, I’d rather face Vegas. The Avs’ offense, and their fast and mobile defense, scare the heck out of me. Vegas is more balanced with better goaltending, but I like the Habs’ chances at hitting them out, with the exception of a couple of guys, of course. But we’ll get into it more in a future article. In the meantime, players will lick their wounds, rest a little, and will prepare for the next round. Go Habs Go!