The long, at times boring and frustrating regular season is over in the NHL and fans and media alike can move on that what is truly important: the players aren’t getting paid and we will see the best hockey of the season! Yes, it’s playoffs’ time, when players don’t play for money but for pride. That’s when they put their best effort and everyone plays hurt, even injured. That’s when feelings get put aside and the line combinations only matter to fanboys, not even so much to the players themselves.
The Montreal Canadiens have known their opponent in the first round for some time and Claude Julien‘s team has been preparing accordingly, giving much deserved time off to some key veterans down the stretch. At practice, the focus has been on their anaemic powerplay as special teams can make a huge difference in a seven-game series. Even Alex Galchenyuk doesn’t care about being demoted to the fourth line, although the same can’t be said about a few Negative Nancy’s on Twitter.
Everyone wants to make predictions so before we do so, why don’t we look at some comparatives of the 2016-2017 season for each team.
The Canadiens have the better natural goals’ scorer in Max Pacioretty but the Rangers have a lot more offensive contribution down the line-up. The goaltending, while similar at first glance, is also in favour of the Canadiens because it’s Antti Raanta and not Henrik Lundqvist who has numbers more comparable to Carey Price.
Face-to-Face Season’s Match-Up
There is no denying that the Canadiens have the edge in the match-ups, based on this season alone. It is important to note however that only one of the three games between the two teams ended with more than one goal difference. Expecting a blowout for one side or the other might be wishful thinking.
A definite advantage to the Rangers in that category, although they have been struggling off late.
Clear advantage for the Canadiens on defense. They have the best defenseman in Shea Weber, and more depth than the Rangers at that position and that, even with Alexei Emelin injured.
As pointed out earlier, this is a clear advantage for the Habs and while King Henrik is a veteran who knows better than to let past stats affect him, it will play in the back of his mind, particularly if the Canadiens can get to him early and often and if that happens, we might get to see Raanta in this series.
The Carey Price Effect
He is the Rangers’ Nemesis and they know it. Price gets into opponents’ mind just like Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur or Dominic Hasek did before him. The Rangers game plan will be simple: direct has many pucks at him as possible, and obstruct him as much as possible. If he can see the puck, he will stop it.
Much has been said about Chris Kreider taking Price out in the playoffs of 2014 and you can hope that the NHL will be keeping a close eye on players taking liberties against goaltenders in all series, but particularly in this one. Price did not forget, that’s for sure.
Now that we have looked at everything, it’s time to scrap everything that you have just read and watched, because the playoffs are a totally different beast. Often, it’s a matter of who’s hot and who’s not, and which team can stay healthy or not. Coaching also has a lot to do with it and you have two guys behind the bench with tons of experience. This series folks could go one way or another.
If you can predict, good for you. I am suggesting for everyone to grab some food along with their favourite beverage, sit back on your most comfortable chair, or at the pub with friends, and enjoy every minute of the best hockey of the season. No more gimmicks like the skills competition to determine a winner, no more loser point, just hard played NHL hockey the way it has always been meant to be played before Gary Bettman and his boys started scrapping it for everyone. Go Habs Go!
Image Credit: Grooch