We have heard it a bunch of times already the last few years that the “new NHL” is all about speed and skill. To a certain extent that is very true but when it comes to playoff hockey you need more than just speed and skill to get you over the hump. If you don’t believe me then just go and ask the 2018-2019 Tampa Bay Lightning or this years Colorado Avalanche. This years Montreal Canadiens are showing that it does take more than speed and skill to get close to the Stanley Cup.
While Montreal has this years postseason blueprint to success they’re not the first team to model this same type of blueprint. The last three Stanley Cup Champions all have one thing in common in that they have a lethal combination of speed, skill, and grit in order to not only have regular season success but postseason success as well. Tampa learned from their epic sweep against Columbus that having boatloads of skill is terrific in the regular season but in a shortened run it doesn’t quite hold up. The Washington Capitals for years had all the skill someone could want but when the playoffs rolled around they were never able to stack up against some of the grittier teams in the league. The same exact thing could be said for the Blues as well. They had some terrific teams that failed in the postseason before breaking through against Boston in the spring of 2019.
Montreal has been searching for the right combination in order to make them a credible playoff threat and for years they have come up short. It’s never been a question of their goaltending because Carey Price has been one of the top netminders in the league for the last five plus years. It’s more been about not having the right combo of forwards and the right defensemen around Price.
After last years shocking series win against the Pittsburgh Penguins, General Manager Marc Bergevin decided to roll the dice and take a chance for a Cup right now. Most people thought he was crazy by trading for Jake Allen, Joel Edmundson, Josh Anderson, and signing a past his prime Corey Perry. Most people were also shocked when Tyler Toffoli was signed because at first glance all of the moves by the GM seemed like a hodge podge cluster that wouldn’t make any sense. The thing that a lot of fans and media members didn’t see was that Bergevin was specifically targeting players who had been through the battles and winning Stanley Cups, Anderson not withstanding.
Perry and Anderson both play a style that many Habs fans aren’t common with because they play that gritty greasy style that helps win games in the postseason. They add a wonderful balance of skill and toughness that has been sorely lacking from the Habs forward group for years because this has been a team that has widely been known for having undersized forwards.
In addition to adding toughness to his forward group, Bergevin also added toughness to his blueline which isn’t the trendy option these days in the NHL. Most teams and fans are caught up in having skill skill skill and that’s not bad but skill alone doesn’t win it all. Shea Weber, Ben Chiarot, Jeff Petry, Joel Edmundson, Brett Kulak, and Jon Merril aren’t the most fleet of foot or most skilled group of six d-men that you’ll find in the NHL today. However they are a group of six that will make life exceedingly tough on opposing forwards and the Vegas Golden Knights found that out the hard way. While this defensive group might not be the sexiest of defensive groups they are rugged and tough and will clear their crease and protect their netminder and not allow many in tight goals which is a big reason why the Habs are now 4 wins away from the Stanley Cup.
While the trend to have tremendous regular season success is having the fastest and most skilled group, this current iteration of the Montreal Canadiens are continuing to show the ongoing trend in the league that you need toughness and grit combined with your top end skill in order to win when it matters the most. Marc Bergevin and his entire staff deserve a bunch of credit of bucking the tide and building a team that may not be best suited for regular season success but they’re built to win when the lights are the brightest.
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