What the Canadiens must do to keep winning


Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty (67) is defended by Detroit Red Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall. (Paul Sancya/AP)

The Montreal Canadiens are four steps closer to their goal of winning the Stanley Cup after beating the Ottawa Senators in six tightly contested games, four of which were settled by one goal. Both teams finished with 12 goals apiece.

The Canadiens were able to put Ottawa down thanks to secondary scoring and timely goaltending.

Five of Montreal’s goals in the series came from bottom-six players Torrey Mitchell, Brian Flynn, Dale Weise and Lars Eller, and third-pairing defenceman Tom Gilbert had one. Ottawa only managed two goals from bottom-six players Milan Michalek and Erik Condra.

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS: | Broadcast Schedule
Rogers NHL GameCentre LIVE | Stanley Cup Playoffs Fantasy Hockey
New Sportsnet app: iTunes | Google Play

All-star goaltender Carey Price hadn’t stolen a game until the final one, with the Canadiens narrowly avoiding a Game 7 after jumping out to a 3-0 series lead. That’s not to say he was bad; Price only allowed six goals in the first three games and the Canadiens lost 1-0 in the fourth.

In Game 5, the Senators managed to beat Price five times on just 25 shots, giving him the third-lowest save percentage (.800) he’s ever posted in a Stanley Cup Playoff game. What followed was a virtuoso performance in Game 6, as Price stopped all 43 shots he faced to bring his save percentage for the series up to .939.

Only Craig Anderson and Braden Holtby put up better percentages in the first round.

In order for the Canadiens to continue on their winning ways, they’ll need three other elements of their game to come into play:

Primary Scoring

Max Pacioretty led the Canadiens with 37 goals in the regular season, but after suffering a suspected concussion in the opening minutes of a game against the Florida Panthers on April 5, he missed the final two regular season games and the first game of the Ottawa series.

Pacioretty scored a power-play goal in his return in Game 2, but was unable to get back on the board before notching an empty-net goal with less than one second remaining in Montreal’s series-clinching win.

"I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t tough to come back from an injury," said Pacioretty moments after Game 6. "You say you can jump right back in, but it’s really, really hard."

Pacioretty continued by thanking his teammates for allowing him to ease his way back to getting to the level he’s accustomed to playing at, noting the rest between Rounds 1 and 2 would be pivotal in his progress.

Other primary scorers for Montreal like Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk — who all finished with 20 or more goals in the regular season — combined for just three goals in the series.

David Desharnais, Devante Smith-Pelly and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau filled top-six roles against Ottawa, but were all blanked in the goal column. Offensive defencemen Andrei Markov and Jeff Petry were also held goalless and Norris Trophy-candidate P.K. Subban managed just one.

The top 23 goal scorers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which wraps Wednesday after Game 7 between the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning, are all considered primary scorers.

Power Play Success

Only three teams to qualify for the post-season had worse numbers on the power play than the Canadiens this season. From best-to-worst, the teams were the Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild and Anaheim Ducks.

At a paltry rate of 16.5 per cent with the man-advantage in the regular season, it was hard to imagine the Canadiens could be worse in the first round of the playoffs. They went 1-for-20, good for five per cent efficiency, and clearly not good enough.

In Round 1, only the New York Islanders were worse than the Canadiens on the power play, and New York was eliminated by the Washington Capitals in seven games.

The Red Wings and Lightning have combined for 30 goals in just six games of their series. Detroit’s been mercurial on the power play at nearly 20 per cent efficiency, and that may prove to be the difference against a Tampa team that’s only converted on 7.7 per cent of power plays.

If the Canadiens draw the Red Wings in Round 2, they’ll have to face a penalty kill that’s running at 92.3 per cent. If they draw the Lightning — who dominated them in the regular season matchup winning all five of their games by a combined score of 21-8 — a power-play goal or two would go a long way towards allowing them to keep up on the scoreboard.

The Senators did a remarkable job of shutting down the point-shots from Markov and Subban on the power play.

Pacioretty said ahead of Game 6 that the Canadiens need to do a better job of shifting the onus to the lower parts of their setup.

"They’ve done a great job of taking away the points," he said of Ottawa’s aggressive penalty kill. "We should be able to take over down low by being hungrier and shifting the play down there to open the points back up. We should be able to work more scoring plays down low."

But the Canadiens were hardly able to exhibit any adjustments of the sort in Game 6, going 0-for-1 on the power play without recording a shot on net.

It’s curious that coach Michel Therrien didn’t change the personnel in Round 1 with his power play failing so badly.

Eller, who was considered to be Montreal’s most effective forward at sustaining offensive zone pressure in the series, was largely relegated to a defensive role, starting 73 per cent of his shifts in his own end, according to war-on-ice.com. Despite being one of Montreal’s top producers per 60 minutes of power-play time during the regular season, he only averaged 15 seconds per game on the power play in Round 1.

Win Game 1

If Detroit loses Wedneday night in Tampa, they’ll become only the second team from the first round unable to advance after winning Game 1 of their series. The Islanders were the other team.

How can Montreal take Game 1?

They say momentum only carries from shift-to-shift in the playoffs, and who can argue it after seeing how Detroit and Tampa have volleyed back and forth, how the Calgary Flames came back from down 3-0 in the final game of their series with the Vancouver Canucks, and how the Anaheim Ducks erased third-period deficits in their series with the Winnipeg Jets.

Montreal left Ottawa with the momentum squarely in their favour.

In Game 6, the Canadiens scored in the opening period for the first time in the series. That should be a confidence boost to get off on the right foot Friday night against either Detroit or Tampa. The Canadiens had the league’s second-best record when scoring first in the regular season.

Another confidence boost to start would be building on Price’s performance when the team needed it most: in a hostile Ottawa building after surrendering five goals at home. Price became the first goaltender to shut out the Senators all year. That could certainly galvanize the Canadiens and have a carryover effect to start Game 1 of the second round.

Lastly, the Canadiens had the third-best home record in the regular season (26-9-6). They were 2-1 at the Bell Centre in Round 1 and have home-ice advantage in Round 2, regardless of who they play.

The three teams to win Game 1 at home in the first round all advanced to Round 2.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.