Raise your hand if you had Winnipeg and Montreal in the North Division final when the season started.
This was a second round series no one could have seen coming in January -- not with all the promise around Toronto, growth in Edmonton, or shine in Vancouver after their playoff last season. Definitely not after Montreal's hot start evaporated, and surely not when Winnipeg went ice cold at the end of the regular season.
But one of these teams will be in the semifinal about two weeks from now, eight wins away from the Stanley Cup.
Both teams are strong in goal. Both have experience, but also some younger players in the lineup. Both overcame being a Round 1 underdog -- Winnipeg may hold the advantage, at least early, because they have the benefit of resting after a sweep, where Montreal will be two days removed from a seven-game series wrapping up.
Here's how the teams match up.
Regular season 5-on-5 numbers via Natural Stat Trick
Winnipeg: 48.21 CF% (21st), 51.90 GF% (15th), .924 SV% (6th), 8.56 SH% (9th)
Montreal: 54.50 CF% (2nd), 50.72 GF% (17th), .914 SV% (21st), 7.50 SH% (25th)
REGULAR SEASON TEAM STATS
Winnipeg: 23.0 PP% (7th), 80.5 PK% (13th), 3.04 GF/G (12th), 2.71 GA/G (10th)
Montreal: 19.2 PP% (17th), 78.5 PK% (23rd), 2.82 GF/G (17th), 2.95 GA/G (18th)
HEAD TO HEAD RECORD
THE STORY OF HOW THEY GOT HERE
Winnipeg Jets: Proof that how you end a regular season doesn't necessarily signal how your playoffs will go, Winnipeg went 3-9-0 in their last 12 games and the signs couldn't have been more ominous. Pierre-Luc Dubois missed Game 1, Nikolaj Ehlers missed the first two games of the series and it could have been a rough ride for the Jets.
On paper, Winnipeg didn't have a ton to be optimistic about. They were coming in cold, without a couple key players, and with a defensive weakness that Edmonton seemed easy to exploit. The Oilers had dominated the regular season series between the two after all, winning seven of the nine meetings, and Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were well-equipped to get inside a leaky Jets defence. That's what they had done all season.
Then the Jets swept the Oilers aside.
Granted the series didn't play as one-sided as a sweep would indicate. On the contrary, Edmonton carried the 5-on-5 play through most of it, three of the games went to overtime, and the one that didn't was a 4-1 decision with two empty-net goals. The Jets, as they are designed to do, leaned on Connor Hellebuyck for a great performance and he came through, as did Winnipeg's forward depth, which was the other advantage they had over Edmonton. Adam Lowry was a difference-maker, Mason Appleton had moments, as did Andrew Copp.
Then, when it came to crunch time, their three overtime winners came from largely expected places: Ehlers, Paul Stastny and Kyle Connor with the series-winner.
"At the end of this it's four games with one shot (difference)," Jets coach Paul Maurice said after the series win. "And we had to weather storms at times when they were dominant and then we had those times as well. 4-0 isn't particularly fair or indicative of how tight that was."
The Jets had to weather their share of storms at time this season, starting with a very early one with the trade of Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic to Winnipeg for Pierre-Luc Dubois. He had to quarantine for two weeks upon landing in Canada and then was injured two games into his time as a Jet. He's not been the regular Line 2 centre we'd presumed him to be in Winnipeg, instead playing on Stastny's wing in these playoffs.
They started fading at the wrong time. Their defence, which hasn't been the same since Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers all departed, allowed more high danger chances against than any playoff team this season. Different key players had lulls at different times, but each one of them has bounced back and now they seem prepared to give any team a fit.
In Round 2 of the North Division playoffs, there will be another back-to-back situation with Games 3 and 4 and so the schedule will be tight. That Winnipeg will have had nine days to rest between games while their opponent has just one could be a big factor in this round.
The bottom line, though, is that while there has been some attrition to this roster in recent seasons, the remaining core has the experience and leadership desired at this time of season. They adapt well, have been through tough losses, and learn from it. Those characteristics should serve them well, too.
"That's what they do," Maurice said. "These guys will take what we weren't good at the night before and apply it."
Montreal Canadiens: An improbable comeback against the best team in the North Division this season is how the Canadiens are here. Carey Price at the peak of his powers, the team MVP in Round 1, is how they're here. And a suffocating, committed, patient team defence in Game 7 where they frustrated the Leafs' attempts at zone entries time and again is why the Habs are here.
Montreal is playing with house money now, already exceeding expectations. Game 1 is going to be a tough one for them, because they could be gassed coming in just two days after Game 7 while the Jets are rested. And then there is another back-to-back situation for Games 3 and 4 in this series -- by the time Game 4 is over the Habs will have played 11 games in 19 days. For context, Vancouver's difficult schedule at the end of the season amounted to 11 games in 17 days.
But count this team out at your own peril.
The kids came to play. Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Jesperi Kotkaniemi all played bigger roles and executed as the series went along. The vets pulled through -- Brendan Gallagher with the big Game 7 opening goal, Josh Anderson with plenty of chances if only one goal in the series, and of course, Price playing amazing. Their defence frustrated the Leafs' attack when it came down to it and they showed what a killer instinct looks like, especially in Game 7. They have it and, sometimes, that's enough.
We could get into Montreal's tumultuous season, how they sometimes struggled against Winnipeg, or how they haven't been close to the team we saw in January. But it doesn't matter. They got through Toronto for entirely different reasons and their biggest challenge in Round 2 might simply be the schedule and that the Jets have had time to exhale.
Winnipeg Jets X-Factor: Connor Hellebuyck
As long as Price continues to do what he did in Round 1, the Jets will need Hellebuyck to answer. He stole Round 1 from the Oilers and needs to be at that level again.
With Price playing as he is, if the Habs score three times it's probably enough to win. Hellebuyck allowed three goals or more against Montreal in six of their nine regular season meetings, but did win six of the nine games. It's just that the formula has changed on Montreal's side -- playoff Price is back.
Montreal Canadiens X-Factor: Phillip Danault
With a fully healthy Jets lineup, the depth they will be able to throw at Montreal up front is going to be a lot to handle. The loss of John Tavares hurt Toronto, but not only do the Jets have a full second line intact, but Adam Lowry's third line is one of the league's best and caused headaches for the Oilers.
Danault's focus in Round 1 was on shutting down Auston Matthews, and he was pretty successful at that. He only recorded one assist and wasn't on the ice for a single 5-on-5 goal in the series, but if he can similarly slow down Mark Scheifele and Winnipeg's top line, it would significantly lessen Winnipeg's advantage in its forward depth.