The Montreal Canadiens kick off the semi-finals tonight against the heavily favored Vegas Golden Knights. This won’t be unfamiliar territory for the Habs as they have played the underdog and played it well all postseason to date. For the Canadiens however, this will be their toughest opponent so far regardless of what the folks in Toronto thought about their beloved Maple Leafs.
When the puck drops tonight, the Canadiens will find themselves in a battle against one of the pre-season Stanley Cup favorites. Having dispatched the Colorado Avalanche in a impressive 6 game series, the Golden Knights eliminated the odds favorite for the Cup. Now only them and the Tampa Bay Lighting remain from the top 5 (Canadiens were ranked 12th) but that is of little concern for the Canadiens. For the Canadiens, it will be business as usual. With long odds still remaining at +1100 the Canadiens are primed for the underdog run.
In order for the Canadiens to make a statement and knock out the now Stanley Cup favorite, there are a few keys to the series:
It’s the obvious but Carey needs to be postseason Carey Price. Only 1 goaltender has faced more rubber than Price and that is Andrei Vasilevskiy of Tampa with Price surrendering 5 less goals which puts him just ahead on the save % stat line. No other goaltender other than Marc-Andre Fleury boasts a better goal against average albeit Fleury has faced roughly a full game and more less of shots than Price. Price has flat out dominated the net and if the Canadiens have any shot in pulling off this upset, Price will need to stand on his head
Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Cole Caufield – the kids have been electric and dynamic for the Canadiens. With 16 points among the trio and Suzuki tied for team lead in goals with Tyler Toffoli, the kids have provided a depth punch that neither the Maple Leafs of Winnipeg Jets could solve. With 2 game winning goals under their belt, the kids have come through in clutch moments and have looked playoff ready from the drop of the first puck. The Canadiens need them to continue rolling to counter the balance of the Golden Knights lineup.
The Playoff Warriors
Tyler Toffoli, Corey Perry, Joel Edmundson, Eric Staal were all added by Marc Bergevin this season. Each have paid dividends to the club and have been a large reason in the resurgence of the Canadiens. Unlike his counterpart in Toronto, Bergevin added postseason winners and Stanley Cup champions in the group which has added a veteran group which has battled through this road before.
Lastly, the Canadiens need their special teams to be dynamic again. While the Jets powerplay was completely inept in the last round, the Canadiens have to be smart away from the puck. Riding the best penalty kill in the postseason the Canadiens will not want to give too many chances to the Golden Knights although their special team struggles have carried over into the postseason. If the Canadiens can outwork and draw the Golden Knights into penalty trouble and capitalize on their struggling PK it could be a huge factor in this series. Overall the Canadiens are far better either up or down a man than the Golden Knights have been.
The underdog story is not going to go away and only heightens from here. Even though the mountain has gotten steeper to climb, the Canadiens have the tools needed to get to the top of this one and move on to the Stanley Cup Final. The keys to the series noted above will go a long way in ousting another favorite.Embed from Getty Images