Are the Montreal Canadiens repeating history?
Think back to 2010: Montreal snuck into the playoffs as the eighth seed with 88 points and faced a Washington Capitals team in Round 1 that finished 33 points higher in the standings. But Montreal pulled off that upset in seven games.
In Round 2 the Habs played a Penguins team that finished with 101 points, and knocked them off as well in seven games. It wasn’t until the conference final where they met Philadelphia, the seventh seed, that Montreal’s magic ran out in a quick five-game dismissal.
That’s the last time these two teams met in the post-season, but Montreal gets here with a similar vibe after dispatching the heavily favoured Penguins in four qualifying round games. Is this the start of another run for Montreal, or are the Flyers — red hot at the pause — too much to handle?
Here is what you need to know about this series:
Regular season 5-on-5 numbers via Natural Stat Trick (with league rank)
Philadelphia: 51.02 CF% (9th), 53.31 GF% (5th), 91.52 SV% (22nd), 9.21 SH% (4th), 1.007 PDO (8th)
Montreal: 54.43 CF% (2nd), 50.87 GF% (13th), 91.70 SV% (17th), 7.49 SH% (25th), .992 PDO (26th)
REGULAR SEASON TEAM STATS
Philadelphia: 20.8 PP% (14th), 81.8 PK% (11th), 227 GF (7th), 191 GA (8th)
Montreal: 17.7 PP% (22nd), 78.7 PK% (19th), 208 GF (18th), 220 GA (23rd)
HEAD TO HEAD RECORD
The story of the qualifying round:
Montreal had no shot against a team with legitimate Stanley Cup hopes. That’s what we thought at least.
But, with shades of 2010’s run, the Canadiens pulled off an incredible upset in large part because of their netminder. Carey Price, one of the most heavy-usage starters in the game, seemed to benefit from the four-plus months off, coming back refreshed and recharged. He looked like he did at his peak when no one questioned his status as the best goalie in the world. That was the key to Montreal’s success.
However, it wouldn’t be accurate to say Price was the only reason why Montreal finds itself in Round 1 of the playoffs.
The kids were awesome. Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored a couple of big goals, Nick Suzuki posted two important points and was the team’s leader in average ice time among forwards. Some more experienced players had good showings, too: Shea Weber and Paul Byron led the team in points, and Phillip Danault did an effective shutdown job, with a 56.25 CF% at 5-on-5.
Montreal got past the Penguins despite Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Drouin, Tomas Tatar and Max Domi combining for only one goal and one assist, and you’d think better days are ahead for at least one of them. By the end of the qualifying round series the Penguins looked defeated and didn’t have a push that was needed. Montreal’s next opponent will not go down so easily.
The Flyers had been rolling prior to the season shutting down in March and it seems like they’ve picked up where they left off. Philly swept the Eastern Conference round robin and outscored its opponents 11-3.
Depth and balance always plays a role in post-season success and that is a strength of Philly. No player averaged fewer than 10 minutes per game and only two players – blueliners Ivan Provorov and Matt Niskanen – averaged more than 20 minutes per night.
Scott Laughton’s performance was a pleasant surprise. The winger led the team with three goals and five points. Selke finalist Sean Couturier is a handful for opposing top lines and aided a penalty kill that only allowed one power-play goal on 10 attempts in the round robin.
Carter Hart was the beneficiary of strong team defence, stopping 57 of the 59 shots he faced in the two games he started. He stopped multiple breakaways against the Lightning.
Montreal Canadiens X-Factor: Jonathan Drouin
Montreal’s best offensive players all need to be better in Round 1 to have any hope of another upset. Their top three goal scorers from the regular season were largely silent. But if Gallagher, Tatar and Domi struggle again, Drouin would be the one who has to come through — if he could find anything close to a level he was at when this season started in October, he could be a real difference maker here.
Drouin had 15 points in his first 19 games this season before getting injured and missing nearly three months. When he returned, Drouin didn’t get record a point in eight games before the pause, and he scored a single goal against the Penguins. His missed penalty shot in overtime of Game 1 will also not be forgotten by blooper shows any time soon.
But he has that potential to explode. In Drouin’s last playoff appearance prior to this he had 14 points in 17 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning back in 2016. Montreal needs to find more offence, and Drouin could be a leader there.
Philadelphia Flyers X-Factor: Kevin Hayes
Hayes was somewhat inconsistent in his first season in Philly after signing a $50-million contract in free agency but he’ll be a major factor in how far the Flyers go in the post-season.
Hayes has great playmaking ability and he and his linemates, Laughton and Travis Konecny, looked sharp in the round robin. They can cycle the puck very effectively and they’ll be counted on to take pressure off Couturier and Giroux.
Hayes showed what he can bring to the table in a three-assist effort against the Capitals.