Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Thanks For Coming Out, But We're Closing Shop


Hey kids, it's been a blast, but Habs Game Blog is no more. I simply don't have the time to devote to covering every damn Habs game, and this year they're probably going to be terrible anyway.

But I'm not gone forever. I'll still be tweeting about this stupid team via @oldarenaghost. ADD ME DAMMIT. I'll probably add you back.

Also, I've started up my own site that focuses on my real interest in life - politics and political structure. So if you have time, mosey on by democracyinterrupted com.

To everyone who came to this nickle-and-dime site over the past 6 seasons, thanks for dropping by! I got some pretty decent traffic and maybe even made a friend or two. But for now, it's on to other things in life.

Kisses.

A.J. (Tony) Bassett

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Game 6 - ECQF: Habs vs. Rangers

New York 3, Montreal 1:

FIRST PERIOD:

- No lineup changes tonight for the Rangers. Can't be blamed for trying what's been working.

- Man, could be a bushel of "last games" tonight for many Habs players. Galchenyuk. Radulov. Markov possibly. Beaulieu might have played his last Thursday night. Team dismantling may begin in earnest over the next few weeks.

- To a certain extent, Max Pacioretty's reputation is on the line tonight. He's already gained the rep of being a "slow producer" in the playoffs. That might grow to "non-producer" if he's not able to make a direct impact tonight that produces a Habs victory.

- Heckova first game shift by the Plekanec line. Hoping that sets some of the tone.

- Pacioretty inexplicably fights Vesey, which is a trade the Rangers will gladly take. Why is Max fighting? To inspire his bench? Has it really come down to this? That's desperation.

- Whelp, that first shift from Plekanec looked really good. I guess that's when everyone else punched out for the night? Little to nothing to speak of since, including two poor shifts by the Danault line which was spent mostly in the defensive zone.

- Habs offence very much dump and chase, and a strong forecheck from Radulov results in a turnover, with Emelin driving close and firing a great shot that gives the Habs a 1-0 lead. Alexei Emelin. That happened.

- Pretty significant contrast in the appoarch to gaining puck possession in the offensive zone. Habs almost entirely dump and chase so far, the Rangers almost entirely carrying the puck into the Canaadiens zone.

- Galchenyuk makes a possibly significant contribution, drawing a tripping penalty. Habs powerplay, which this team desperately would like to see some goal production tonight, goes to work.

- That was a zero powerplay, not aided by lines featuring King/Ott/Bryon. What is Julien doing?

- Brendan Gallagher is in warrior mode again tonight. Danault and Pacioretty nowhere to be see. At least for the first 15 minutes.

- Habs doing a better job this period on the forecheck, even though the Danault line is really struggling to get their legs moving. Danault continues to be very passive with the puck, and Pacioretty has been largely isolated. If that line doesn't get it going, and in a big hurry, it's going to be lights out for the season.

- Lundqvist is giving up some rebounds tonight - there's been more than a couple of loose pucks off shots in high danger areas. More net crashing might produce more Habs scoring. Might.

- First good shift featuring sustained pressure by the Danault line. Comes with just under 2 minutes left in the period. Lots of work down low around Lundqvist, but in so tight that nobody can really push the puck in a dangerous way.


SECOND PERIOD:

- Possession stats were very positive for the Canadiens in that 1st period, 64.3% at even strength:


- Scoring chances in that 1st period were 15-5 Habs. That's pretty impressive. But is it sustainable? We saw on Thursday night that playing hard (and well) out of the gate is only a good model if you're able to build a maintainable lead on the board. Habs' goose was cooked when they came out of the 2nd with only a tie score. Sooooo .... this period will be mighty important - the Canadiens must hold if not, extend their lead if they hope to play again Monday night.

- Benn for holding, Rangers 0-percent powerplay goes to work. Would hate to see if finally click here.

- And it clicks. Habs PK just not fast or aggressive enough, Zuccarello with a snap shot that Carey Price likely should have stopped. Anyway, the streak is over, the Rangers have scored on the man advantage, and the game is tied.

- Rangers are pretty inspired now - maybe it's because Price let in a weak goal (by his standards). Any perception of weakness, can make an opponent play well above his shoulders.

- Habs again not putting enough bodies in front of Lundqvist tonight.  Unless it's Shea Weber from 20 feet, this man will not be beaten if he sees the shot.

- End to end action going here, which is the kind of hockey the home team loves to play. Habs still searching for a leader here, somebody to rise to the occasion. No sign of that in sight.

- Galchenyuk with some lost shifts this period. But that's often what happens when you force a centre out on the wing. Flynn isn't doing anything up the middle, more often than not this line has been a defensive liability.

- Rangers dominating this period, and not by coincidence, putting plenty of bodies in front of Price. Why the Habs aren't willing to do the same to Lundqvist is an eternal mystery to me.

- Huge mistake by Julien, who puts out the 4th line for a d-zone face-off, with the Rangers dominating the period and all the momentum. Shockingly, Ott and King don't know what to do, fail to cover the passing lanes, and Zuccarello is sprung totally wide open for a slam dunk 2-1 lead. That's a killer mistake that may very well cos the Habs their season.

- Habs late period powerplay. Sure, it's just the 2nd, but these are desperate moments for the Canadiens, who've been hammered throughout the period. Scoring here would surely be a deflating moment for the Rangers.

- Habs got hammered in that period. Blitzed. Dominated. The Rangers have all the momentum, and are absolutely pounding this team out of the Stanley Cup playoffs. It'll take a minor miracle for this series to go back to Montreal for a 7th game.

THIRD PERIOD:

- CF breakdown doesn't look horrible for the Canadiens, except that they're getting outplayed, especially in that 2nd period:



- The big bad news for the Habs tonight is the poor performance by the Danault line - each has been under 45% CF, Danault the worst at just over 41. That's pretty terrible for what's supposed to be your number one unit. Their total inability to make a goal scoring contribution this series is obviously one big reason why the Habs find themselves firmly on brink of elimination.

- Just keep the damn 4th line off the damn ice. It's killing this team. Fine, rotate McCarron into some 3rd line shifts, maybe give Flynn a breather. But no more 4th line. They're awful. It's done. Just stop this.

- Oh, speaking of Flynn. His play at centre isn't helping. Hasn't helped. Must be stopped. We have 15 minutes left. Stop doing losing things.

- 12 minutes left. At some point Julien has to play just two lines of his big guns. That time might just about have arrived.

- Kreider high sticks, Weber. 11 minutes left. This might be it, right here.

- Just pass the puck around the permitter on the powerplay with your season just about out of time.  That'll show 'em!!

- Just sag right now. I think this team, even though just behind a single goal, knows it's beat. 6 minutes left.

- 5 minutes left. Habs haven't even had a sniff of a quality scoring chance this period.

- 4 minutes. Still no scoring chances. No 1st line threat. It's dismal.

- First great scoring chance goes to Plekanec, but Lundqvist makes a great left pad save, less than 2 minutes on the clock. Now 1:17 left, Price on the bench. This is really finally it.

- Empty net, and the season is over. Lot's of post-game, post-series, post-season thoughts, but I'll take a little while to let it all settle out. One this is sure, there's a lot of responsibility to go around, players and management. More on that later.





NHL media. Better days for the Habs, when they properly utilized Alex Galchenyuk
THIS IS (LIKELY) THE END, MY ONLY FRIENDS, THE END

Enjoy the game tonight, it might be the last game you'll see with Alex Galchenyuk in a Habs uniform. Or Nathan Beaulieu.

Oh, wait. Beaulieu isn't playing.

Nope, he's a healthy scratch for the do-or-die game 6 tonight at Madison Square Gardens. Also Torrey Mitchell, who at this point is leading Max Pacioretty in playoff goal scoring. Also Andrew Shaw, not because he's largely been ineffective offensively, but because he's out from an upper body injury.

So who is playing? Brandon Davidson is back. And Mike McCarron. And Brian Flynn, who'll centre the Habs 3rd line, putting Galchenyuk out to flounder on the wing.

For a do-or-die game.

Enjoy it. It's like the last Habs game we'll see for 5 months.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Game 5 - ECQF: Rangers vs. Habs


FIRST PERIOD:

- I've written it before, I'll write it again - having been to Habs playoff games at the Bell Centre, the TV does the actual noise level there no justice. Atmosphere looks particularly electric tonight.

- That was a rousing pregame and anthem. If the Habs lineup wasn't juiced by that, they'll never be.

- An incredible left pad save by Carey Price on Mats Zuccarello right off the bat. Weber and Markov with a big miscommunication there to give the Rangers a sparkling opening minute chance.

- You probably have to bury this chance. This is a significant blown opportunity:


- Alexei Emelin looking ... uhh ... unsteady. Beaulieu's going to have his hands full tonight. Julien might be second guessing his decision.

- Bogus hook on Emelin, Habs kill the Rangers powerplay (again), but it looked pretty good. Habs be wise to avoid the box tonight. Got the feeling New York is finally zeroing in on getting that unit back on track.

- Lot of finger pointing directed at Pacioretty past 48 hours, which given he's a 35 goal scoring captain, is to be expected. But my eyes are firmly on Danault, who's really struggled to generate chances off a forecheck. He's been carried by his wingers most of this series.

- One strategy has become clear early - crash the crease and look for rebounds around Lundqvist. That's all fine and good, since Henrik is apt to give up the puck from time to time, but I'd still like to see more bodies attempting to block his vision. 

- Rangers doing a really good job stunting Habs ability to exit their zone effectively with the puck.

- Lehkonen! What a marvellous story he's turning out to be in these playoffs. Rangers Staal far too slow retrieving a dumped puck in their zone allowing him to muscle in to generate not only a puck turnover, but a quick wraparound that appears to have taken Lundqvist by surprise. That's a goal-scorers goal right there. To think this is Lehkonen's first taste of NHL playoff action. What a huge addition for the Canadiens franchise.
- That play by Staal a weak spot for this team - defensive depth. Their first pairing is excellent, but drill past to the 2nd and 3rd pairings, and there's a lot of opportunity for the Canadiens.

- Habs buzzing on their powerplay. It also looks dangerous. Both team's units might have a say in the final result tonight.

- Oy, Fast with a shorthanded goal. Galchenyuk with a tough pass back to Beaulieu, who in turn, doesn't do a good job retreating to his zone, with Fast beating him hard inside to tie the game. 

- Gallagher responds before the powerplay expires with a ridiculously open shot from the slot. An outstanding response by the Habs to the shorthanded goal. Deflating turn of events for the Rangers. 

- Claude Julien with a surprise move here, Galchenyuk placed between Radulov and Pacioretty. Not only is that the coach saying "don't worry" about the Fast goal, but it might be the first substantial sign that he's running out of patience with Danault, and might be slowly inching towards giving Galcheyuk another shot at some 1st line action.

- Andrei Markov and Rick Nash hate ... HATE each other. Just get a room, guys. 

- Speaking of hurting, Gallagher gone to the dressing room before the period expired. Ut-oh.

- An intense opening period, to be expected since it's the 6th game and the series is on the line. I was surprised by how wide open the game became, both defences have (for the most part) played pretty responsible hockey. Not tonight - the forwards are dominating the tone and pace of this game, which is fun to watch, but not advisable if you're the visiting team. Could be more than a few goals scored to come before this night is done.


SECOND PERIOD:

- Habs dominating that first period, 66.7% SA CF:


- Heat map also shows Canadiens edge in the 1st period. High danger scoring chances, 6-2 in favour in Montreal:



- Gallagher's status is unknown, but one thing we do know - Mats Zuccarello delivered a very illegal two handed slash to Gallagher's ribs towards the end of the period. At the very least it wasn't on his wrist or hand, but that's still a play capable of knocking someone out for the night.

- Gallagher starts the Habs 2nd period with a shift, looked okay I suppose, maybe a little tentative around the puck?

- 4th line impact! They draw a penalty and it's McDonagh who goes to the box. So opportunity is at hand.

- Zuccarello again with nasty stick play, hitting Byron high and hard in the face. Habs more powerplay time.

- Lots of buzzing in the Rangers zone, not a lot of shots on Lundqvist. Pacioretty is officially snakebit.

- Canadiens kind of turning the tables on the Rangers tonight, with a far more physical game. It's been a double-punch effect because while they're outhitting New York, they're also vastly out-chancing them. As this game progresses, it's going to be increasingly more difficult for the Rangers to compete, they're going to get worn out down the stretch.

- Even during times when the Rangers have the puck set in the Habs zone, they can't get anything remotely dangerous away. Habs defence so fast on the puck, or delivering thumping body checks, that New York just can't maintain the zone.

- Still hard pressed to argue that Emelin is any sort of an upgrade over Brandon Davidson. 

- Hoo boy, Rangers tie it up with more defensive errors, this time it's Shea Weber not picking up the streaking  Skjei, and although vastly outplayed most of the period, the Rangers are going to be the only team who've scored a goal in the period.

- Rangers pretty pumped by that game-tier. How could you blame them? Lundqvist held them in, and they're even on the board. 

- Massively disappointing period for the Canadiens, who routed the Rangers nearly every minute of the period, and the Rangers were the only team that scored, taking advantage of a defensive miscue. For the Rangers, they'll be overjoyed with a tie game result. For the Habs, how could they not be deflated for the 3rd period? They've worked so hard, dominated possession, but don't even have a lead to show for it.

THIRD PERIOD:

- Kind of astonishing graphic here, but the Habs with 59.2% CF at even strength finding themselves fighting for their lives:


- While the outcome of this game remains a great uncertainty, one of the post-game storylines will be the position that Claude Julien ought consider putting Davidson back in for Emelin. 

- Keep eyes on Kreider, he's had some pretty solid shifts this 3rd period. His game might be waking up.

- Much more of a grinding 3rd period, vastly different than the style of game we saw periods 1 and 2. This is more resemblant a road team period. That's bad news for the Habs.

- Canadiens sure look like a team playing for an OT point in this period. Not happy with what I'm seeing.

- Julien looking for answers here. Danault centering Pacioretty and Lehkonen. 

- Looks like our worst fears realized - Rangers came out of that 2nd period very upbeat, the Habs in the 3rd look pretty deflated. Nothing wrong with dominating your opponent, but if you can't convert that domination into victory in short order, you're far more likely to lose. That might be what happens to the Canadiens tonight.

- Max Pacioretty's intolerable woes continue, as he's stopped off a clear-cut breakaway. 

- Gallagher gets slashed, and this time it's called. With less than 6 minutes left, to say this man advantage is important would be a massive understatement.

- Nada. Safe to say with 3 minute left, next gaol wins the game, and in all likelihood, the series.

- Not that any of us can take it, but we're headed to OT. The Rangers will be very happy about that, not only because they're the road team that's been largely outplayed tonight, but because the Habs lost most if not all their substantive momentum in that 3rd period. Have to figure New York has the distinct advantage in the extra period, or periods.

OVERTIME:

- Rangers were by far the better team in the 3rd period, again to be expected when you get outplayed for most of the night, and still manage to find yourself tied on the scoreboard. So many reasons to suspect the Habs won't find a way of winning this game tonight.



- Well, here's likely the whole season, and all of it's promise, on the line. Grab a seat and maybe a hanky or two.

- Not an ideal start for the Habs in this OT. Their offence is wildly disorganized, the Rangers with far more effective zone entries. Stomach in sinking here. Just doesn't look good.

- Habs have clearly lost their mojo. They'l need a huge break to win this game.

- Rangers with a couple of icing. Game pace is at a crawl.

- Flip a coin. Habs getting a little more footing as the game has progressed. Rangers chances have been relatively limited from the 5th minute forward.

- Chris Kreider just missed a wide open net. He won't sleep for a week if the Rangers don't win tonight.

- Rangers with some pretty persistent forechecking, you'd have to figure that's eventually going to pay off sooner rather than later.

- Habs basically holding on for dear life. 7 minutes left, shots are 9-2 Rangers. There's just no way the Canadiens can hope to win this game unless something very dramatic happens in a big hurry.

- Can we get to intermission? That's about the only hope left for the Canadiens.

- There you have it. Emelin with a poor turnover at centre ice, Rangers pounce. Mika Zibanejad from Kreider, and the Rangers take game 5. It was but a matter of time, and time just ran out for the Montreal Canadiens.

- Just no way of putting a positive spin on tonight's results. Yes, the Canadiens dominated the first 2/3rds of the game, in particular the 2nd period, but they couldn't finish their opportunities. It's been a story this playoff series, and for that matter, the past few seasons for this organization. Not enough finish. So the bucks will stop at a few places. Danault and Pacioretty have failed to produce. There's no other way of spinning it. While Pacioretty has at least generated his fair share of shots, none has managed to find the back of the net, and for a bottom line sport, that's not going to cut it. Danault, meanwhile, hasn't been doing either of his wingers favours for playmaking. More often than not, he's losing puck battles in the offensive zone. That's not going to cut it.

Besides the guys who are supposed to score, it was another frustrating night for Alexei Emelin, who was easily the slowest defender on the ice for either team, and made far too many errors, including the game-losing goal, for Julien to continue to rationalize his presence. At least Brandon Davidson, who might not be as physical, contained his mistakes to the minimum.

Goaltending, Lundqvist continues to be the story of the series, overshadowing Carey Price who hasn't let in a bad goal this series, but instead has been the victim of mental mistakes by the Canadiens, either in their own zone, or at centre ice.

And so the Habs are faced with the unenviable task of having to win two in a row in order to save their season. It's possible, but it's highly unlikely. 


=====================================================================


GAME 5 PREVIEW: CAPTAIN, OH WHERE IS MY CAPTAIN?

The Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers square off tonight for game 5 of their Eastern Conference quarter final with much on the line. The victor tonight will have a sizeable advantage towards winning the series. For the Rangers, a win tonight means they could wrap the series up on home ice Saturday, for the Habs, a victory means they'll get two kicks at wrapping things up, including another home date, assuming we reach a 7th game.

So in advance of the puck drop, here are some point form things to consider:

- Alexei Emelin will be back in the lineup tonight after missing the past three weeks from a lower body injury. He'll play on the 3rd line alongside Nathan Beaulieu. While the Habs were making do with Brandon Davidson on the 3rd pairing, Claude Julien wouldn't dare keep a veteran like Emelin out. One matter for consideration - both Emelin and Beaulieu are left handed shots, it's expected that Emelin will play the left side, and Beaulieu the wrong wing. That could have an impact.

- Lots of talk amongst the media about the production, or lack of, from captain Max Pacioretty, who's yet to score in the playoffs. Pacioretty addressed the questions yesterday, in a slightly defiant tone:

"That's just the way life goes in the playoffs. I'm trying hard, I feel like I'm playing a pretty strong game right now. My last game wasn't great, but I don't think it was bad. But there are other areas to help the team win; I'm on the penalty kill, I'm playing big minutes. I'll leave the rest up to you guys, I guess, and just worry about this team."

That doesn't sound like someone who's too worried about his play. The fact is, Pacioretty like many other goal scorers, tends to be streak with his production. Pacioretty's playoff performance history also bears a slow start pattern. During the Habs run to the semi-finals in 2014, Pacioretty scored just 1 goal in his first 9 playoff games, but tallied up 4 over the final 8 before the Habs fell to the Rangers.

So the captain says not to worry, because he's not worried.

We're fine with that position, but the Habs do have a rather important matter at hand, and that's beating the Rangers at least 2 out of the next 3 games. Otherwise, his goal scoring, good or bad, becomes a moot subject.

- Apart from Emelin starting (and Davidson sitting), Habs are expected to play the same lineup tonight as they did for game 4.

- Over on the Rangers side, many accolades being thrown towards Henrik Lundqvist, whose performance this series has helped to save his team's bacon. While Lundqvist's save style hasn't always been pretty, it's gotten the job done. During game 3 the Habs seemed to crack the code a bit by playing an aggressive drive to the Rangers net, while also getting bodies in front of Lundqvist's vision. On Tuesday night, however, the traffic around the Rangers crease wasn't nearly as busy, and accordingly, the Habs came away with one paltry goal. Expect the Habs to try to create more havoc in the crease tonight.

- Rangers are making no changes to their lineup tonight, which means no Tanner Glass again. Here's how they will likely start tonight:

Jimmy Vesey - Derek Stepan - Rick Nash
J.T. Miller - Kevin Hayes - Mats Zuccarello
Chris Kreider - Mika Zibanejad - Pavel Buchnevich
Michael Grabner - Oscar Lindbert - Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Nick Holden
Brady Skjei - Brendan Smith

- Perhaps one of the more astonishing facts that this series is tied, beside the fact that Lundqvist has been standing on his head, is the Rangers have managed to win 2 of 4 games while batting 0.00% with their powerplay. While it's anyone's ball game as to who wins this series, if New York can't produce offence with the man advantage, it strikes a significant blow to their overall chances of winning the next 2 out of 3.

- It's Carey Price vs. Lundqvist. Puck drops at 7:10 EST.



Monday, 17 April 2017

Game 4 - ECQF: Habs vs. Rangers

New York 2, Montreal 1:

FIRST PERIOD:

- So Tanner Glass and Kevin Klein are the healthy scratches tonight for the Rangers. Klein isn't much of a surprise, but Glass is ... kinda. It's also a pretty good indicator the Rangers are changing tact, less emphasis on physical and grit, more on speed and skill.

- That said, Nick Holden, who had two miserable starts for games 1 and 2, is back in the lineup tonight, which Rangers fans won't be pleased about.

- So will the real Chris Kreider, at least as we've come to know him over the years, reappear tonight?

- Pretty energetic start for the Rangers, Habs being very cautious, even reserved, with the puck. Seems to be willing to take a few body blows by leaning on Price early.

- Galchenyuk needs to be much more aware with the puck - making far too many casual and careless passes that have been setting the table for a fast Rangers transition.

- Gallagher just keeps on motoring along doing the same old Gallagher thing, crashing Lundqvist and pushing the puck hard. Anything to get under Lundqvist's skin is a good thing.

- Rangers playing with a lot of urgency early out, besides no longer focusing on hits, likely their primary focus is to do whatever it takes to make sure they score the first goal. Very intense in their own zone, hard on the puck, and putting bodies in front of any shot attempts.

- Plekanec line seems more focused early on checking, rather than as a counterpunch line. Not a lot of forechecking emphasis, more zone defence. Basically Julien, like everyone else, knew the Rangers would come out inspired early, so he's made adjustments to try to slow the game pace down.

- 11 minutes left, here comes another Rangers charge. Habs just trying to clamp down high danger chances.

- Gallagher having a fantastic 1st period, absolutely fearless going to Lundqvist, has come very close twice to giving the Habs the game's first goal.

- Great breakaway save by Lundqvist on Shaw, who just can't deliver the goods. Still not sure if Lundqvist isn't looking more like the shaky version was saw mostly 1st period of game 1. Opportunity possibly at hand for the Habs.

- Markov misplays a shoot-in, Jasper Fast takes full advantage quickly taking the gift-wrapped puck, and backhanding the puck between the legs of what appeared to be a surprised Price. Rangers get the big first goal. Put a big checkmark next to one off their main goals.

- These bad bounces can sometimes have a spin-off effect. Andrew Shaw back to his bad ways with a wretched tripping penalty behind the Rangers net. The powerplay goal-less Rangers get another chance to get that unit working again.

- Rick Nash absolutely crashes Price driving the net (and picks up an interference penalty). Besides the call, that sure looked like intent to cause some injury. Rangers gotta be Rangers.

- Radulov careless high stick. Habs trying to play a grinding road game, but you gotta do it smart. So far, the Canadiens have not played an intelligent period.

- Radulov with another monster play, making a hit at centre ice to win the puck, and then feeding Mitchell for a two-on-one break which is beautifully finished by a wonder pass back from Weber to Mitchell who has a wide open net. Fantastic goal that doesn't happen if Radulov doesn't make that fantastic play in the neutral zone.

- That has to be a dispiriting result for the Rangers, who played a very solid 20 minutes, largely outchancing the Canadiens, and eventually taking advantage of a rare Habs defensive error. But all of that goes for not with the late Mitchell goal. It will be interesting to see how New York responds in the 2nd - it'll either be with resilience, or ... if the Habs score the next goal, they might fold up their tent for the night.

SECOND PERIOD:

- Rangers owned possession in the period, just over 61% CF at even strength. The heat map, however, a more even result, Habs with more scoring chances (9-5), and high danger chances 5-4 Montreal:


- Rangers get the critical 3rd goal of the game, as Benn and Petry have a poor shift, marked by confusion over responsibility, which allows Nash to pick up the puck off the boards and backhand it past Price.

-Nash goal has the Rangers playing at another gear. Habs simply holding on, weathering another storm. 13 minutes left in the period - critical juncture here. If the Rangers score again shortly, they might pull away. Canadiens desperately need not so much the next goal, but to scale back the pace of this game.

- Not sure how much longer the Canadiens can withstand this - too many d-zone turnovers happening now, Rangers are eating the Canadiens alive in the Montreal side of the rink. Canadiens don't even have a shot on Lundqvist, and we're nearly at the halfway mark.

- Rangers are winning most of the battles, especially so in the neutral zone. Canadiens forwards not more than a split second of time to handle the puck before they're immediately checked. Not much you can do other than hope your opponent eventually wears out. Rangers showing no sign of that yet, however.

- Rangers with massive pressure building and building, they're completely owning centre ice. 7 minutes left, just can't see the Habs holding out much longer.

- Pretty sure Petry is playing hurt. Nothing other than observation, but he's lost a step tonight, and has had some pretty up (and at times very) down shifts.

- Late period powerplay is "meh" - shots registered including a good chance for Lehkonen - gaining the zone has been fine, but not enough traffic in Lundqvist's face to really present a threat. Habs are likely going to need to crash and burn that Ranger crease if they want to tie this game up.

- Seems like Julien has lost a degree of confidence in Danault, who's been pretty invisible most of this series. He's been taken off the powerplay units, both the 1st and 2nd line. Just not enough playoff intensity in his game.

- That was a lopsided period in favour of the Rangers, Habs could arguably been happy with being just one goal down. The Rangers simply want this game more than their opponent, it shows with how they're winning puck battles, containing the Habs attack, and winning the neutral zone with a superior forecheck. The decision to shelve their hitting game seems to be paying dividends. Habs will need to muster up a terrific 3rd period if they want to gain a stranglehold series lead.

THIRD PERIOD:

- Hasn't been a classic road game by the Canadiens through 2 periods. An indicator of a well played game on another rink is you establish the mode. Well, the mode tonight has been mainly a Rangers game where they've been able to leverage their speed and skill superiorities.

- Habs trying to be more involved at centre ice, results have been somewhat promising with a few puck gains via backchecks and pass interceptions.

- Lundqvist almost completely muffs a Galchenyuk shot, looking behind for the puck (which actually squeezed through his legs). He's been great tonight, but he still has these occasions where you have to hold your breath.

- Rangers being very physical first 5 minutes of the 3rd, which is kind of ... weird? They're playing the same style which got them into a heap of trouble two nights ago.

- Habs 4th line continues to be a defensive nightmare, even with Martinsen no longer in the lineup. Both King and Ott struggle so much positionally, the Rangers are eating them alive. Price again holding his team in this.

- Yup, Rangers are going to try and bruise their way through this 3rd period. Canadiens are getting more opportunities to score the first 9 minutes of this period that they had the previous 40.

- Julien puts Shaw with Pacioretty and Danault, and Radulov is playing next to Galchenyuk and Lehkonen. Interesting. Obviously he's trying to find some inspired combinations as time wears down, but I'm not sure how familiar Radoulov/Galchenyuk/Lehkonen are with each other.

- Time isn't quite a concern with 10 minutes left, but at some point the Habs will need to open things up.  After early period pressure, the Rangers have really clamped down defensively. Montreal generating few scoring chances here, mainly because they're struggling so much to gain the New York zone.

- Habs with puck control in the Rangers zone, but can't muster a shot on Lundqvist. New York forcing the play to the permitter, and the defence is doing a great job guarding Habs forwards in the slot.

- Ott line can't be faulted for their ability to chance and win pucks, but constructing a scoring attempt, they're totally inept. 6 minutes left. Just no point putting them out there anymore.

- Rangers aren't exactly turtling their way through this period, not with all the hits they've been dishing out. Most of the play has been on the New York side of the ice, but the scoring chances have been limited.

- Oy. Icings aplenty by the Canadiens, which is exactly not what the Habs should be doing trailing a goal with barely 4 minutes left. Montreal simply unable to get clean pucks to their forwards, the Rangers are being aggressive at centre ice stunting attacks. Frustratingly effective.

- 3 minutes left, time to open all the engines and roll any dice in the room.

- Another icing. Poor passes from the defence to the offence is completely hampering the Canadiens.

- Habs 4th line out, with less than 3 minutes left. I don't understand that at all.

- Another icing. Long bombs, low percentage. Desperate attempts to get the puck down the ice. Not good. Not good.

- Brenden Smith is getting hacked to pieced this period. Radulov earlier, huge elbow to his face by Byron.

- Weber DING. I think that's his 3rd post this series. With 1:20 left. Sigh. That's the Habs closest chance in the game, which is also not good.

- Well, can't say the Habs didn't try. Absolutely ferocious scramble around Lundqvist with 50 seconds left, with 5 bodies in white jerseys throwing their bodies at the goal. Rangers getting plenty of puck luck tonight.

- Rangers make key late shot blocks, and eek out a win, which is some solace if you're a Habs fan. New York appears only capable of winning games by the narrowest of margins. The victory coming from a very solid 2nd period which generated the winning goal, and then holding on in the 3rd, with the added benefit of some lucky bounces. I'm not sure if this is a formula that will see the Rangers through to a series victory. From the Habs perspective, a tough loss. But through 4 games, the Canadiens are clearly the better team - which in a scenario of best 2 out of 3, would argue to favour the Canadiens eventually winning  the series. For what it's worth, that's my gut feeling.

==================================================================


Newsday

GAME 4 PREVIEW: RANGERS FACING MUST-WIN GAME AT HOME


A few observations in advance of tonight's 4th game between the Habs and Rangers, with the Canadiens seeking a 3-1 series lead, and the Rangers facing almost certain playoff extinction if they're unable to win tonight:

- Claude Julien, as widely anticipated, is making no changes to his lineup tonight, which means Alex Galchenyuk will start again at centre, while the 4th line will feature Torrey Mitchell with Steve Ott and Dwight King. Defensively, Alexei Emelin is still out with an unspecified injury, with Brandon Davidson earning his second consecutive start on the 3rd line next to Nathan Beaulieu.

- The Rangers lineup is again a mystery. Alain Vigneault has kept his card close to the chest all series long, is unlikely to show his hand until the puck drops. Even his pregame warmups have told us nothing - on Sunday night Vigneault attempted to fake out Claude Julien by running a bunch of fake line combinations. Judging by the final score, we're not sure how well that deceptive strategy paid off.

- A lot has been made about the Rangers hitting in the series. So far they've delivered 160 hits (by far the most registered by any team in this year's playoffs) against the Habs, which while bruising, isn't necessarily a positive indicator. Basically, if you're wildly outhitting your opponent, it's likely because you're doing more of the chasing. Also, the emphasis on physicality has largely nullified a significant quiver in the Rangers's arsenal of speed amongst their forwards. You can't body check and maintain a fast game. It's a weird strategy taken by New York, and the results, a 2-1 series deficit, speak for themselves.

- That said, I'd fully expect New York to significantly shift their approach tonight, scaling back the focus on finishing checks, and working on delivering a more intense forecheck, especially at centre ice, to generate more positive puck turnovers, which could then be brought quickly into the Canadiens zone.

- Another somewhat baffling missing element to the Rangers' anticipated attack this series has been the lack of traffic in and around Habs netminder Carey Price. Three years ago, the Rangers basically won their series against Montreal by pushing the Habs net - to the extent they (Chris Kreider) literally took Price, and in turn, the Canadiens, out of the series. This year, it's been very quiet around the Canadiens' crease, perhaps influenced by the presence of not only Shea Weber, but also Jordie Benn. Both have played excellent physical games this series, doing great work not only blocking shots, but stopping Rangers bodies from coming anywhere close to Price.

- As is often the case in a Stanley Cup playoff series, speciality team performances are having a significant impact. For the Canadiens, their powerplay, running at a 20% conversion rate this series, is aligned very close to the regular season average (19.6%). The big impact though, has been the Habs penalty kill, which at this point, has been a perfect 100.0%. From New York's perspective, the inability to score a single powerplay goal up to this point in the series has made an already difficult task - that is, scoring more goals against Carey Price, nearly impossible. If the Rangers can't get their speciality units on track, their odds of winning this series are minimal.

- The Canadiens hope to see another strong outing by their best line so far in the playoffs - Tomas Plekanec, Paul Byron and Brenden Gallagher. Those three have dominated the Rangers, especially in New York's zone. Plekanec, who's currently playing some of his best hockey in at least 5 years, has done an outstanding job applying pressure on the Rangers defence, while Gallagher, who's looked as good as ever in his career, has been fantastic winning puck battles along the boards.

- Will the Rangers finally shed themselves of their home ice funk? 0 for their last 6. Something's gotta give, right?

- Puck drops at MSG 7:10 EST.


OFF DAY NEWS 'N' NOTES:

Basking in the glow of an excellent game 3 victory over the New York Rangers, we have some series news in notes in advance of game 4, Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden:

- Habs held practice this morning, and ran the same line combos as game 3 - a very sure sign that Claude Julien, satisfied with what he witnessed Sunday night, isn't going to make any adjustments.

- While the Habs are standing pat, the same can't be said of the Rangers, who also held practice this morning, featuring significantly revised combos. The "*" indicates player being shifted to a different line compared to game 3's starting lineup:

Vesey* - Stepan - Nash*
Zuccarello* - Hayes* - Miller*
Kreider* - Zibanejad* - Glass*
Grabner* - Lindberg - Fast

McDonagh - Girardi
Staal - Holden*
Skjei - Smith*

Not a good sign if you're a Rangers fan.

More in a bit.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Game 3 - ECQF: Habs vs. Rangers

Montreal 3, New York 1:

FIRST PERIOD:

- The Rangers lineup is barely recognizable. Some serious shakeups made by Alain Vigneault:

Jimmy Vesey - Mike Zibanejad - Mats Zuccarello 
Rick Nash - Derek Stepan - Michael Grabner 
Chris Kreider - Keven Hayes - Jesper Fast 
J.T. Miller - Oscar Lindberg - Tanner Glass 

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi 
Marc Staal - Brendan Smith 
Brady Skjei - Kevin Klein

- So let's try to take this all in. Stefan and Vesey get bumped from the 1st line to the 2nd line, Zibanejad and Vesey from the 1st line to the 2nd line, Kreider from the 1st to the 3rd line, Jesper Fast from the 4th to the 3rd, Miller and Hayes from the 3rd to the 4th. And then on defence, Brendan Smith gets boosted from the 3rd to 2nd pairing, Nick Holden gets scratched, and Kevin Klein gets a start (on the 3rd pairing). Whew!

- Har har. Vigneault plays the same lines as he did game one, the warmups were just some shade thrown. But, Holden is out, and Klein is in. And Kreider is back to line 1.

- Gotta say, that was a pretty uninspiring pre game by MSG. Maybe that's part of the "can't win at home" issue?

- Looks like the Rangers actual number 1 line is on fire tonight - Kreider comes agonizingly close to snapping one home.  Plenty of speed forces Petry to make a goal saving hook. New York gets early powerplay. Here's Kreider's chance:


- Habs PK does the job, Carey Price again heavily involved with puck handling and clearances. He's the best goaltender in the League handling the puck, one of the big reasons why the Habs PK has been one of the League's best since Julien took over.

- Rangers absolutely storming early, not unlike the Habs for game 1. Canadiens simply trying to weather the storm. Really nothing else can be done.

- More excellent play by Tomas Plekanec, who after having a comparatively miserable regular season, is like a brand new player this series. Just had a great shift that might stunt the ferocious Rangers attack.

- Plekanec, Byron and Gallagher continue to play some unbelievable hockey. They've taken their game up 3 or 4 steps, if you want to quantify just how ridiculously dangerous their play has been in the playoffs. Julien trying to match the line, and it's paying off. Habs are slowly wrestling back momentum.

- Lundqvist not showing any of the shakes that we occasionally witnessed at the Bell Centre. If not for him, Canadiens would already have a scoreboard lead.

- One thing is certain, the Rangers 4th line towers in comparison to the Habs 4th, as they draw another Rangers powerplay. If New York wins this series, that domination will certainly be a key element.

- Rangers 2nd powerplay comes awfully close to scoring, they've made one adjustment, more bodies directly in front of Price, which the Habs defence needs to recognize immediately and clear. Secondly, Habs PK forwards need to drop back a little and help out with that traffic. Ott on the first unit didn't do a very good job.

- 2 minutes left in the period, Habs forwards get really aggressive with forecheck, especially in the neutral zone. Generates a couple of nice puck turnovers creating fast zone entires. Like to see more of that tonight. 

- No score after the 1st which is something the Canadiens will gladly take. After the Rangers came out hard (as expected), the Plekanec line put together a string of brilliant shifts that tiled the ice in Montreal's direction, and nullified the early New York momentum. Habs had much more control of the pace, which is ideal for a road game. It's going to be a tough game, but so far you'd have to be cautiously optimistic if you're cheering for the Canadiens.

SECOND PERIOD:

- Habs CF 64.5% at even strength, so that's pretty huge first game on the road. Rangers probably not entirely pleased with how that first period played out:


- Boner play by the continuing-to-struggle Staal, who vacates the lane on a Habs zone entry, which rolls out the red carpet to Markov to wind up for a 25 foot slap shot on Lundqvist who makes another great save to keep his team in the game.

- Lundqvist with a big, if not slightly unsteady glove save on Torrey Mitchell, again from close distance. At this moment Lundqvist is the big story, but the Rangers soft defence off the Habs zone entires ought be considered. They'll need to tighten it up significantly, because eventually Hank will face something he can't stop.

- Habs 4th line still isn't great, but it's defiantly better with Mitchell in and Martinsen out. Also, Julien not taking any chances, mostly pairing that line's shifts with Markov-Weber. 

- Really sloppy coverage by the Rangers defence tonight. Their top pairing McDonagh-Giradi are fine, but as you drill down, cracks start to appear. Staal a real weak link.

- Jordie Benn is a difference maker. So happy to be wrong about the Pateryn trade (I thought it was a sideways deal). Doing an outstanding job shot blocking and guarding territory close to Price.

- J.T. Miller with the bonehead puck handle off the face-off, sends the Habs to the powerplay. 

- Lehkonen on the powerplay! A ridiculously great tic-tac-toe passing play Plekanec, Gallagher ... and Lehkonen who fires a puck that nobody, not even Lundqvist could save. 1-0 Habs.

- 15 minutes before the Lehkonen goal:


- Well-earned 2nd period lead for the Habs, who again were the more dominate and aggressive team in the period. Canadiens continue to be aided by great performances by their PK, while the (perceived) supporting cast has risen all the way to the top - Lehkonen, Gallagher, Plekanec with another sparkling effort tonight, with honourable mentions to Radulov, Markov and Weber. Heck, even Steve Ott has had a positive impact. Rangers will almost certainly come out fighting in the 3rd - the third game is usually taken by the eventual series winner.

THIRD PERIOD:

- Habs with 56% CF edge 2 period total at even strength:


- Here's the 2-period heat map. Canadiens are dominating high danger chances so far, 10-4 in their favour (which is a significant margin):


- Kreider looked good his first two shifts, and nearly scored. Since then? Nada. Obviously if he doesn't deliver, the Rangers chances of winning this series, never mind tonight's game, are limited.

- Zuccarello gets nailed for a 4-minute high stick on Markov. Huge opportunity. 

- Oh god, what a pass by Radulov, behind his back through his skates to Galchenyuk who carries directly in front of Lundqvist, and instead of shooting, dishes off to Weber who buries it. Another fabulous tic-tac-toe goal gives the Habs a 2-0 lead. Radulov working his magic again.

- Another fabulous PK by the Habs. This unit has been one of the very top positive stories of the series, at least from the Canadiens' perspective.

- Rangers might not register 20 shots on Carey Price tonight, stuck on 14 with 8 minutes left. An incredibly disciplined effort by the Habs defence tonight.

- Habs simply great in their own zone, winning battles, blocking shots, guarding passing lanes. Rangers unable to get much of anything going, and Vigneault, maybe a bit of desperation, putting out a dizzying array of different line combos. Looking for a spark, any spark. 

- Oh god, oh god. Oh god. Alexander Radulov. One of the greatest goals I've seen scored by a Montreal Canadien player in years. Back checks at centre, creates turnover, then just chases a loose puck and stickhandles *around* Lundqvist with one hand. The deal is sealed. Radulov is a monster.

- Dammit, Price denied the shutout, Skjei who's been excellent for New York, with a shot that might have been deflected by Byron. 3-1.

- An outstanding game by the Montreal Canadiens, one of their best in years. Especially so the defence, who were disciplined and structured all night long, which kept the Rangers chances limited at best. There were few if any weak links in this Habs lineup - I would be very surprised if Claude Julien makes any adjustments for game 4. 




GAME PREVIEW: ROAD GAME ADVANTAGE?

We're just hours away from game 3, a critical juncture in the Eastern Conference quarter final showdown between the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers. Lots of points to cover today in anticipation of the game, so let's get out the point forms.

- The Rangers as we all know, wrestled away home game advantage in the series with their 2-0 victory last Wednesday night. But is there really much of an advantage? New York hasn't won a playoff game at Madison Square Garden since 2015, and won just barely half of their home schedule this season - 21 wins, which represents the worst home ice record in the NHL this season amongst teams that qualified for the post-season. There's no rhyme or rationale for the Rangers struggles at MSG, it could be a statistical anomaly. Still, it must be concerning to the faithful that the Rangers are winless over their last 3 starts, and would be in real danger of getting knocked out if that streak reaches 4 tonight.

- The Canadiens have made some significant - some might say well overdue - lineup changes tonight. After torturing many a Habs fan last week with his erratic play (mainly in his own zone), Andreas Martinsen will be a scratch tonight. Slotting in on the 4th line will be Torrey Mitchell, who will play along side Steve Ott and Dwight King.

- Woah, did I say Dwight King on the 4th line? I sure did. With King moving down, Alex Galchenyuk will start tonight on the 3rd line at center (yay!), along with Artturi Lehkonen and Andrew Shaw. This adjustment will almost certainly please those who've been very critical of coach Claude Julien's attempt to create an "effective" 4th line, by placing the talented Galchenyuk there on wing beside Ott and Martinsen. But after 1 so-so 1st period last Wednesday, that 4th line has been more-or-less a defensive nightmare rather than an offensive asset for the Canadiens.

King's demotion to the 4th  will also be welcomed. While King's work ethic can't be questioned, his ability to finish plays, in particular his lacklustre shooting ability, was largely undoing the efforts of both Lehkonen and Andrew Shaw. Speaking of Shaw, the shifting of Galchenyuk will mean Shaw will return to wing after two disappointing efforts up the middle for games 1 and 2. Shaw, whom G.M. Marc Bergevin specifically targeted last summer for his strong post-season reputation, has been roundly nullified by the Rangers defence so far in the series. Moving Shaw back to the wing will likely take some of added burdens and responsibilities off his shoulders, and may encourage more aggressive play around the Rangers net.

- Speaking of the Rangers defence, they've been somewhat Jekyll and Hyde. Over the first two games, New York's top pairing of captain Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi have been excellent, limiting the Habs offence to just 10 scoring chances so far in the series. An even brighter spot has been New York's 3rd pairing of Brady Skejei and Brendan Smith, who have also limited the Canadiens to a ridiculously measly 4 scoring chances of the first two series games.

However, the same can't be said of Marc Staal and Nick Holden, both of whom were on the ice for 3 of the Habs 4 goals on Friday night, including the game tying and OT winner. The Stall/Holden pairing have also been on the ice for half of all the Habs high danger scoring chances. With these numbers, there's been much speculation since Friday night that Rangers coach Alain Vigneault might make some adjustments to the defence - including possibly promoting Skejei and demoting Holden.

- What will Vigenault do? We've no idea. While the Habs have been transparent in showing their lineup hand in advance of the puck drop, the Rangers are going to keep their lineup hush-hush right up to game time.

- While we've mentioned the Rangers defence, we almost forgot to talk about the Habs blue line adjustment tonight. After struggling with positional play in his own zone both Wednesday and Friday nights, Nikita Nesterov will be a scratch tonight. Brandon Davidson, many of whom had expected entering this series to be playing on the Habs 3rd defensive line, will finally get his first playoff start tonight.

- Goaltending! Carey Price was, as usual, excellent Friday night, making a series of key saves to keep his team within a goal throughout the 3rd period. The same might not be said of Henrik Lundqvist, who, while solid so far, has at times seem erratic between the pipes - on occasion fumbling the primary shot, and then scrambling to cover the rebounds. I don't think there's anything wrong with Lundqvist per say (certainly nothing injury-related), but his uneven play may suggest we're witnessing the first symptoms of the inevitable decline that goes with surpassing the mid-30s.

- Lineups! First the Habs:

Max Pacioretty - Phillip Danault - Alexander Radulov
Paul Byron - Tomas Plekanec - Brendan Gallgher
Arttrui Lehkonen - Alex Galchenyuk - Andrew Shaw
Dwight King - Steve Ott - Torrey Mitchell

Andrei Markov - Shea Weber
Jordie Benn - Jeff Petry
Nathan Beaulieu - Brandon Davidson

For the Rangers:

We have no idea because they aren't tell anyone anything.

Puck drops tonight at MSG at 7:10 EST.


Friday, 14 April 2017

Game 2 - ECQF: Rangers vs. Habs


Montreal 4, New York 3 (OT):

FIRST PERIOD:

- Good uptempo start by the Habs, 4th line, according to Julien, gives his offence more depth (it doesn't), but they had a decent first shot.

- Gallagher breaks Lundqvist's stick in half, and a minute later, Petry snaps home the Habs first playoff goal, a beauty top corner. Canadiens hard forecheck and physical work in the corner finally pays off. Gallagher looks fantastic first 3 shifts out of the gate. 1-0 Montreal. Lundqvist is furious, likely because Gallagher wasn't called for slashing.

- Thumping game first 8 minutes, hard hits in the corners, each team appears to have the same strategy - hard forecheck, finish hard hits, get traffic in front of the nets.

- Very clear the Rangers 4th line is miles better than the Habs 4th, as they hammer the Habs deep in their zone, and nearly tie the game. Martinsen and Ott way out of their depth again.

- Plekanec line is on fire - Gallagher and Byron continue fearless and ferocious play generating some great scoring chances. Lundqvist again looking scrambly in goal, much like the 1st period of game 1.

- Paul Byron on a breakaway stoned by Lundqvist. Huge save their. Rangers down 2-0 have minimal hopes of recover against Carey Price. Byron is gonna bury one of these chances eventually.

- Shaw with a hard pass up the boards that's fumbled by Beaulieu who flops to try to stop the puck, giving Grabner a breakaway. Unlike Lundqvist, Price can't make the save, and the game is tied. Habs had all of the momentum and then some up to that Rangers goal.

- Man, that Bryon miss looming large. I wonder if that might be a play we look back at later if the Habs don't win tonight.

- Byron!! He finally buries his opportunity, with Staal and Holden caught badly out of position, Byron fires a snapper top corner and it's 2-1. That's two corner shots that Lundqvist can't stop. Have the Canadiens found a weak spot? Let's see if they keep aiming there.

- Galchenyuk now with Byron and Plekanec! But it's not a line juggling as reward for Galchenyuk, Gallagher appears to have been injured, and is getting attention on the bench.

- Pacioretty, you gotta shoot that puck. 25 feet top circle, elects to pass over to Radulov. Max seems more inclined to pass so far this series. He's a sniper - surely he knows that. So his decision making with the puck has been somewhat puzzling.

- Danault injured? We knew that this game was going to be physical, but has it taken two of the Canadiens' top 6 forwards?

- Gallagher back on the ice, long enough to take a slash from McDonagh. Refs are gonna let 'em play.

- Jordie Benn has been caught badly a couple of times this period, Zuccarello with a glorious last second chance after Benn inexplicably pinches forward and gets caught in the neutral zone. Price with an excellent stop to save the day, but that's the kind of mistake that the Canadiens can ill-afford to make if they want to advance in the playoffs.

- All in all, a fast, physical and very entertaining opening period - the Canadiens definitely controlled the tempo, both teams clearly trying to wear their opponents out with hard hits. Habs still not getting the traffic in front of Lundqvist that I was hoping to see, but 2 goals is still a very good result over 20 minutes of play. The question is, can the Canadiens maintain this level, or will, as they did for game 1, recede heavily in the 2nd?


SECOND PERIOD:

- Smith with an abolustely brutal crosscheck to the side of Shaw's head in front of Lindqvist that somehow goes unpenalized. Julien is furious, Shaw is dazed.

- Was about to post that Galchenyuk was playing with Shaw and Lehkonen, and looked very good. Maybe Julien will keep that going? Here's hoping.

- Gallagher and Byron continue to play possessed hockey. Rangers defence simply being overwhelmed by these two.

- Habs 4th line a keystone cop routine, Rangers absolutely swarm Price. That line has become a martial threat to the Canadiens post-season hopes. Some kind of intervention needs to be made, especially with respect to Marinsen, who's brutal in his own zone.

- One of the most physical and intense games involving the Montreal Canadiens that I've seen in years. These two teams are hammering each other, neither seems willing to bend.

- Danault is back for his first shift in a long while. Still not sure what the problem was. With him back, I wouldn't be surprise if Julien pushes Galchenyuk back to the 4th line again.

- Radulov with a tiny little slash on Vesey after the play that's called. So crosschecking to the head is okay. A tap to the shin pads, YOU ARE BANISHED. Really strange call.

- Habs PK continues to be one of the great understated stories of this hockey team since Julien took over. Another critical kill (off that dubious Radulov slashing call).

- Insane save by Carey Price off a one timer, and then everybody drops their gloves. Mini line-brawl going here, involving mainly Miller and Weber. Game is wild, an incredible contest to the Wednesday's game, which by comparison was a sleeper.

- Oy, Nesterov on the point at the blue line. What a mess. Habs not nearly enough screening of Lundqvist on their first powerplay. Com'on guys, it's not that hard.

- Habs come close more than a couple of times on that powerplay, perhaps another key game moment if the Rangers can find their way back to evening the score.

- Steve Ott fed a breakaway, ans promptly slams on the breaks while crossing the Rangers blue line. Is then easily stripped of the puck. It's painful to watch.

- And there is is, Nash with an unstoppable shot top corner off a bad Habs change and then some wretched zone coverage, Beaulieu makes bad error chasing an unretrievable puck of the boards which left Nash unmarked. And the game is tied.

- Where's that sizzling Arttrui Lehkonen snap shot? We could use of those before the night is over. We haven't really seen one all series.

- Smith, what a good. He may have gotten away with crosschecking Shaw in the head, but he doesn't get away from roughing up Gallagher, gifting the Habs a big powerplay opportunity. Dumb, dumb, dumb play by Smith.

- Weber still sitting in the box from a fighting major, meaning he's missed both Canadiens' powerplay chances.

- Andrew Shaw has been wretched on the powerplay this series. There are other options at hand for Julien. Let's see if he uses one.

- Gallagher has been ridiculous with puck retrievals tonight. He simply will not be denied that puck. Julien has him playing on the Habs 2nd powerplay line. He more than deserves to be on the first.

- Julien has Martinsen/Ott/King line now. Seems like Galchenyuk has been relocated from the basement.

- Why is Martinsen STILL out there? He plays through his shift, and the Rangers take full advantage, as a shot towards the net going wide is defected home by Zuccarello. Rangers take the lead.

- There is no way you could have convinced me before the series, during game one, and tonight, that Micheal McCarron or even Torrey Mitchell aren't better options that Martinsen.

- Habs need Alex Radulov to score goals, not get sent to the penalty box for careless penalties. What a killer. These minors are eventually going to burn this team. It's only a matter of time.

- Massively disappointing 2nd period for the Habs, who didn't play any worse then their opponents, but made critical defensive errors that the Rangers were more than happy to capitalize on. Now the Canadiens find themselves down a goal with 20 minutes left in a game they must win if they're to have realistic expectations. Buckle up, this is a nitty gritty as hockey gets.


 THIRD PERIOD:

- So the Habs need their leaders, including the guys who are expected to score, to step up. Pacioretty, Radulov and Danault. Lehkonen, even. Each of those three has been very quiet tonight, if not the whole series. So we're all looking their way.

- Early powerplay for the Habs here, and they'll have Weber at the line for the first time tonight. Let's see if that pays off.

- Pacioretty. Shot is lacking, passing is frequently off the mark. Lot of unforced errors happening with his game at about the worst possible time.

- Just a tough, tough, tough night for Beaulieu. Bad passing at the line on the powerplay, and defensive mistakes are all adding up and taking a significant toll on his team's chances of winning.

- Plekanec line hast stepped it up ig time tonight  - is this inspiring the others who haven't delivered? Not seeing it. 1st line still looks lost.  Time is running out. 13 minutes left.

- Is there a way of just playing Gallagher and Byron every shift for the rest of the night? If the rest of this teammates where playing as well, this game would be a Habs romp.

- Wow, Grabner sneaks behind Markov and Weber and gets a big-time breakaway. That's a terrible defensive mistake. Habs incredibly lucky to still be only one goal down.

- Another great shift by the Plekanec line. What a brave performance by these three warriors. They're doing everything possible to give their team a shot.

- Oh god, Petry, You'll never get a better shot of tying up a Stanley Cup playoff game. From 10 feet out, how did you miss?

- Habs absolutely full-throttle hard push with 6 minutes left. Rangers are just barely hanging on. Canadiens know it's do or die for their season right here.

- Carey Price might be the missed element from tonight's game - none of the goals scored on him were his fault. But since the Rangers took the lead, he's stopped everything directed his way, giving his team at least a shot.

- Max. It's gotta be Max who ties this up. He's been the leader all year, if anyone going to do it, it's him.

- Habs crazy zone pressure, they've got total puck control in the New York zone, the Rangers are chaotically scrambling for their lives. Lundqvist in a shooting gallery. Can he hold on for 3 more minutes? I don't see how this is possible.

- PLEKANEC. WITH 17 SECONDS LEFT STEPS UP AND DELIVERS. Rangers somehow blow three glorious opportunities to clear the zone, Weber with two fantastic desperation plays to keep the puck inside. And Plekanec. A remarkable night for Plecks, with his linemates Gallagher and Byron, only this time, it's Radulov with the perfect feed that Plekanec redirects past Lundqvist to save, at least for now, the Habs season.

- We're headed to OT. Well, I'm spent. And this is just game 2 of the 1st round. What an incredible night by the Habs 2nd line, they've more than proved their playoff mettle. Now it's someone else's turn to be heroic. Pacioretty, Danault, Shaw, Weber or Lehkonen. Your chance awaits.


OVERTIME:

- Heros? I'll take Pacioretty again, and for the Rangers, Zibanejad.

- Really strong shift by the Danault line. Pacioretty and Radulov appear to have found some mojo. Will that translate into a game winner?

- Jeff Petry AGAIN whiffs with the puck in an ideal shooting spot, likely a goal missed. Crazy unlucky.

- Kreider, HAH. Hacks Ott's stick in two right in front of the official, Habs to the powerplay! Hang on to your hats.

- Julien makes an adjustment, stripping Shaw off the 1st line, putting Plekanec on instead. We approve.

- Habs are massively dominating this OT - almost all the action in the Rangers zone. Canadiens obviously feeding off the late tying goal, they're absolutely determined to win this. Rangers just hanging on for dear life, hoping the storm will somehow pass.

- Massively one-sided OT in Habs favour. How the Rangers haven't lost is a miracle. If New York wins this, my heart will be left in a thousand pieces.

- 8:33 left, game seems to be settling in, Habs incredible pressure seems to be ebbing a bit (it had to end eventually). Perhaps this is the break in the storm the Rangers were waiting for. After having so many chances to win this game, maybe the Habs have missed their window of opportunity?

- Still haven't seen a whole lot of the Danault line this OT - Julien riding the Plekanec and Shaw line pretty hard. That first line should have more legs to give - and they've looked pretty dangerous at times.

- Danault absolutely robbed by a Lundqvist pad save with Danrult's one-timer just 15 feet away. Another golden chance missed.

- Rangres getting chances now, Price having to scramble. The game is starting to tilt the other direction. Habs need to find that gear again.

- Another bad shift by the 4th line, Martinsen et al, and Vecey is absolutely robbed by Price coming across to stop the one-timer. Rangers have now taken control of the momentum. It was inevitable, but it's not being helped by Julien deploying that awful 4th.

- 4th line sent out again, guess what? Rangers nearly score. And now they ice the puck, and are stuck out there. Claude, I know you're trying to give your troops a breather, but this late in OT, it makes no sense putting that line out.

- RADULOV DELIVERS. What an incredible play by Max Pacioretty with a fantastic back check at centre ice, then bringing the puck back deep to help the Habs set up the game winner. The season is saved by the guys we hoped an needed to step up and deliver. What a night, and what an incredible hockey game.




GAME 2 PREVIEW:



FULL THRUSTERS WARP SPEED FORWARD ASSISTANT COACH KIRK! WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE

The Montreal Canadiens host the New York Rangers in game two of an Eastern Conference quarter final. The Canadiens face a must-win situation with New York looking to grab a stranglehold 2-0 heading back to their home rink.

The Canadiens, to the great astonishment of even the most casual followers, will not make any lineup adjustments tonight. This in the face of a 2-0 loss in game one Wednesday night, where the Habs offence, which stormed out of the gate in the 1st period but failed to put the puck past Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, stumbled for the final two period on their way to a defeat.

So the Habs, in desperate search for a goal - any goal, will again start Alex Galchenyuk, the once first line centre heir apparent, along side Andreas Martinsen and Steve Ott on the Canadiens 4th line. That unit, which had a strong 1st period (much like the rest of the team) stumbled badly through the 2nd and 3rd period, where hard work by Galchenyuk to generate scoring opportunities around Lundqvist were largely fumbled by his linemates.

The Rangers unsurprisingly will also keep the same lineup and combinations for tonight's contest. This in light of strong defensive performance by New York after they sustained the Habs early game onslaught. The two brightest lights on the Rangers defence was Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith, who normally represent New Yorks' 3rd line pairing. Wednesday night, they played everything like a top-line unit.

With Julien sticking to a "big" lineup, one would expect the Canadiens, who are in a slightly desperate situation, to play an especially physical game tonight, if only to find a way of creating havoc amongst the Rangers defenders, who played exceptionally well in the 2nd and 3rd periods of game 1. Also look for the Habs to create more traffic in front of Lundqvist, who had far too many clear views of Habs shots Wednesday night. Lundqvist might be past prime age, but if he's got a clear vision of nearly every shot attempt, the Habs will continue to struggle offensively.

Here are the presumed lines for tonight's game. For New York:

Chris Kredier - Derek Stepan - Mars Zuccarello
Jimmy Vesey - Mike Zibanejad - Rick Nash
Michael Grabner - Keven Hayes - J.T. Miller
Tanner Glass - Oscar Lindberg - Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marcc Staal - Nick Holden
Brady Skjei - Brendan Smith

And for the Canadiens:

Max Pacioretty - Phillip Danault - Alexander Radulov
Paul Byron - Tomas Plekanec - Brendan Gallagher
Dwight King - Andrew Shaw - Artturi Lehkonen
Alex Galchenyuk - Steve Ott - Andreas Martinsen

Andrei Markov - Shea Weber
Jordie Benn - Jeff Petry
Nathan Beaulieu - Nikita Nesterov

Alexei Emelin, who continues to deal with an undisclosed injury, won't play tonight, and might not even travel to New York this weekend. So it's likely Nesterov (and perhaps) Brandon Davidson on the 3rd line for the forseeable future.

Carey Price vs. Henrik Lundqvist. Puck drops at the Bell Center at 7:10, EST.


Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Game 1 - ECQF: Rangers vs. Habs

New York Rangers 2, Montreal 0:

FIRST PERIOD:

- Nesterov gets the start ahead of Davidson, which surprises (and concerns) me.

- If it seems like the Bell Centre is loud over your TV, you're right. Having been at a Canadiens playoff game in that arena, the noise cannot be described (or underestimated).

- Gallagher with a bad trip on Staal. As we mentioned in the series preview, it's important that the Canadiens avoid the penalty box, because it offers the Rangers a path to victory.

- Good PK by the Canadiens - not entirely suprirrisng since this unit has been among the League's best since Julien took over.

- Beaulieu with a couple of great scoring chances high slot, but can't deliver his shots on goal. That's been an issue with him all season - shot accuracy.

- Habs largely dominating the game so far, but Rangers strike first, as Plekanec wins a deep draw, but his wingers, specifically, Paul Byron, fails to tie up their marks, in this instances it's Glass, who with a fierce backhander that hits top corner. 1-0 New York.

- Galchenyuk looks great, but he isn't getting much help from his inept line mates Martinsen and Ott  both of whom are predictably mixing it up physically, but can't do a damn thing with a hockey puck.

- Lindqvist has stopped all 12 shots he's faced, but his style shouldn't endear Ranger fans with confidence. Scrambly would be a good way of describing his style so far.

- McDonagh gets nailed for an interference, with a strange play on Pacioretty at centre ice, with the puck really nowhere close. Gotta be smarter than that.

- Julien goes with Andrew Shaw first unit, a page out the book of Therrien. Doesn't work very well at least that first attempt. Galchenyuk  on the 2nd unit, which is something, I guess.

- Smith high sticks Lehkonen, Montreal's powerplay extends from 2 to 4 minutes.e

- Aside from the Glass goal, difficult to feel disappointed with that 1st period, the Habs outshooting the Rangers 14-5, which is not a sustainable number if you're hoping for a New York victory. Don't think Lundqvist looked anything but slightly shaky, which means he's likely getting too many good looks at shots. Habs could probably offer a bit more traffic around the crease, and shouldn't be wary of crashing the Rangers net when the opportunity presents itself (Ott had managed to run over Lundqvist earlier in the period). Don't like the score, but like the mostly dominated Habs period.


SECOND PERIOD:

- Domination by Habs in that 1st period, 77.3% CF ... at even strength. Rangers with a couple horseshoes helping them stay ahead on the scoreboard:



- While the Canadiens had a very strong 1st, one failing were their attempts. Just one high danger in the frame, which is not nearly good enough against any opponent or their goaltender:



- Underlying numbers are hard to debate, here. If the Canadiens play the 2nd and 3rd periods like they played the first, the Rangers will need a miracle to win this hockey game.

- Maybe Vigneault read them a copy of the riot act during the intermission - Rangers coming out a bit faster this period.

- Stumbling start this period, Rangers doing much better job retreating to their own zone, and for bottling up centre ice. Canadiens unable to muster much speed with the puck so far.

- Rangers clearly turning the tables this period, Habs need to regroup. Ott and Martinsen with two terrible shifts this period, at some point Julien has to think about moving Galchenyuk up, maybe switching him up with Dwight King, who's doing his line no favours so far, either.

- Rangers have the forecheck running full throttle, and it's keeping the puck mostly in the Habs zone. 7 minutes gone in the period, Montreal still hasn't registered a shot.

- Habs 4th line officially back to being a tire fire again. Julien needs to make an intervention, or at the very least, significantly scale back their playing time (while moving Galchenyuk to another line).

- Weber with a cannon, which is good. But it's a shot that Lindqvist is allowed to see without any distractions in front, which makes it a routine save by NHL standards. Habs have to get bodies in front, or they're not going to score.

- Mats Zuccarello, who's been the target of Shea Weber tonight, with a dirty low hit on Gallagher that the officials refuse to call. Not cool. Not cool.

- Great shift by Galchenyuk, one of the best I've seen all year, and it puts the Rangers entirely on the defence. Canadiens come close to score, with pucks loose around Lindqvist, but predictably, neither Ott nor Martinsen can shoot it home. At some point Julien will need to reconsider his strategy, Galchenyuk needs to be put next to people with goal scoring abilities. Otherwise, all this fine play is being wasted.

- That Galchenyuk shift has changed the dynamics of this game, Habs swarming Lundqvist, who has to make a couple of big saves to keep his team ahead.

- Galchenyuk with a *do'h* puck handling off the faceoff, which is probably the most avoidable penalty possible. Sigh. Goodbye momentum.

- Ut-oh, extended Rangers 5-on-3 advantage, as Gallagher is nabbed for a hold.

- Simply outstanding kill by the Habs PK, Markov and Weber really shining. Huge missed opportunity for the Rangers.

- Well, that was an unexpectedly bad period for the Habs, especially in light of what we saw in the first. Maybe this team came out a little too fast, too hard? It happens, especially game one at home in the playoffs. Still, there's no excuse for the way this team played in that 2nd period, the Rangers clearly reorganized and refocused during the 1st intermission, and took it to Montreal for the first 14 minutes of that period, dominating possession and the shot clock. Galchenyuk played a very strong period, Dwight King was very weak. Claude Julien, the hockey gods are basically screaming at you to make an obvious adjustment - moving Galchenyuk up to King's spot, and King back down to the 4th line. HEED THE GODS.

THIRD PERIOD:

- Oy, what a turnaround. Canadiens ridiculously lucky to be only 1-0 down at this point, including the fact they managed to kill an extended 2 man advantage. Rangers CF (5v5) in the 2nd alone was 67%+:


- Julien sticks with King along side Lehkonen and Shaw. Sigh.

- Rangers are stacking their line, and so far, the Habs have no response.

- Habs are gonna have to do this the hard way - shooting pucks, hitting and retrieving. Rangers also doing an excellent job covering passing lanes in their zone. Canadiens can't muster up any form of sustained puck pressure.

- Shaw sets King up perfectly in the slot, shot fired hits Lundqvist in the head. If that's Galchenyuk, it's like a tie game. CLAUDE TAKE A HINT.

- Rangers are winning most of the puck battles, especially in their own zone, against Bergevin's "bigger", "tougher" team.

- Habs look spent. Gave it all the 1st period, battled to keep the floodgates closed in the 2nd, limping through the 3rd.

- Julien steadfast with his line combinations, refusing to budge an inch. He's picked his hill to die on tonight, dammit.

- 6 minutes left, Habs will have to gamble now with hard pinches. Nothing else has worked. Julien won't make any adjustments, so now we need some luck to salvage this game.

- Phillip Danault won't be bookmarking this game as a career highlight, and he gets nailed for an anxious tripping penalty in the O-zone. Another viable candidate for some kind of line juggling, but Julien remains steadfast.

- Habs kill the Danault dumb-ass penalty, but lose two minutes off the clock. 3 minutes left, time to roll all the dice.

- Julien switches up King and Galchenyuk. With 2 minutes left in the 3rd. Too little, too late.

- Grabner, empty net. Game over.

- Habs get shut out. It's not rocket science. You put one of your best forwards on the 4th line for 58 minutes, you're going to struggle to generate offence. And now the Habs suddenly find themselves in a must-win position, with the playoffs literally just begun.

Game 2, there's no excuse for Galchenyuk to be mired next to Martinsen and Ott. There's no excuse for Dwight King to be in over his head on the 3rd line. This team ought easily handle an opponent like the Rangers. Instead, the Rangers easily handled the Habs tonight, especially in batting for pucks. This against Marc Bergevin's reconstructed "tough" hockey team. Well tonight, his troops got manhandled.



HABS AND RANGERS FIRST ROUND PREVIEW: 

Well, it's arrived. The Stanley Cup Playoffs.

For fans of the Montreal Canadiens, the fight for a championship has been two years waiting. 24 months have passed since the last spring of promise, and just 12 months time removed from the disastrous 2015-16 campaign, a season in which the Canadiens finished with just 38 wins.

This year, it's been different. From 38 wins last season, to 47 this season.

All of this while in the shadow of "the trade".

In late June of last year, the Canadiens sent star defender P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators in return for the hulking body that comprises Shea Weber. The deal stunned Habs fans, many of whom had developed a affectionate following for Subban, who, just weeks previously, had himself made a $10 million commitment to the Montreal Children's Hospital.

The trade, in itself, highlighted a deep and unabiding insecurity over certain perceptions that had haunted the franchise for years:  The Canadiens are too small. The Canadiens lack character. The Canadiens aren't tough or rough enough to compete.

The acquisition of Weber, all 6'4", 230 lbs of man mountain, changed the dynamics, or at the very least, the perception that Montreal didn't have the muscle required to ice a truly competitive hockey team.



The "toughing" of the Habs actually started in earnest before the Subban trade. In the days leading up, General Manager Marc Bergevin, then entering 4th season within the Canadiens' front office, traded away Lars Eller, who had attained a reputation for soft play, and then hours later, made a play for Chicago Black Hawks grinder-supreme Andrew Shaw, whom had caught the G.M.'s eye during his time as an assistant G.M. in Chicago. For Beregvin, Shaw shored up the "character gap" that had presumably dogged the organization for so many years.

The Eller deal and Shaw trade would, of course, be totally overshadowed 3 days later when P.K. said his goodbyes to Montreal. But in the aftermath of the trade, Bergevin made a free agent signing which, in retrospect, may have had a bigger impact on the Canadiens fortunes this season than either Weber or Shaw.

It was Canada Day, when Bergevin announced that he had won a fierce bidding war against the Colorado Avalanche for services of Alexander Radulov, who 4 years earlier had been banished from the NHL because of management conflicts with the Nashville Predators. It was a watershed moment for the Canadiens who entering the 2016-17 season, desperately needed scoring punch on the wing. Previous experiments with the likes of Dale Weise, Thomas Fleischmann, Alexander Semin and Devante Smith-Pelly had failed to pan out.

From game one it was clear the Canadiens had finally found their wingman in Radulov, whose speed, skill, grit and playmaking abilities made him an immediate fan-favourite:



While much last summer's roster limelight was cast on the likes of Radulov, Shaw and Weber, another roster move, which at the time received relatively little attention, has had a big impact on the Habs offence. That addition, made back in May, 2016, was the entry level signing of Arttruri Lehkonen, who had originally been drafted by the Habs in the 2nd round of the 2013 Draft.

Lehkonen, while not possessing Radulov's brawl or intensity, has in short order evolved into one of the most talented young two-way players in the NHL. Lehkonen's hockey intelligence, in combination with a fierce wrist shot, helped him to score 18 goals in his rookie campaign, no small accomplishment for a winger who had largely fallen off the radar of most Habs hockey observers before his signing. Just look at his shot from a game in early March against the Panthers:



These are not the same Habs as the old Habs. With Radulov, Lehkonen, elite scoring from captain Max Pacioretty, and 20+ goal production from Paul Bryon the Canadiens front lines have as much depth this season as any in recent memory - bolstered further by the presence of a healthy and productive Brendan Gallagher.

Ah yes, health. That's a big word around Montreal, especially so given what happened to Carey Price last season. The Canadiens, blessed they be with talent up front, will only go this post-season as far as their healthy all-world goaltender can carry them. It goes without saying that the Habs, with Price in top form, are a much more difficult team to beat in a seven game series. And while Price has had his ups-and-downs this season, his form has looked excellent since the Canadiens made a mid-season coaching shift in February, with Carey putting up a +.940 SV% since then.

Oh right. The coaching change. We almost forgot about that.

Truth be told, the Montreal Canadiens were never going to compete for a championship under Michel Therrien, who somewhere along the way, lost the room. Blessed with talent and a healthy Carey Price, the Habs nosedived from a comfortable 1st place lead at the start of the calendar year, into nearly out of a playoff spot in a mere 6 week span. The underpinning trend was dreadful:


Following a 4-0 loss at the hands of the Bruins, Marc Bergevin, realizing the season was slipping away, and born from the opportunity of having an available Claude Julien, made a change that so many Habs fans have been pining for years. The effect of the change was nearly immediate:


So what does this all add up to? It adds up to a Montreal Canadiens team that, for the first time in 25 years, has a viable chance at winning a Stanley Cup championship.

But it won't be easy. It will mean having to beat tough competition, be it the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Chicago Black Hawks - or someone else. 

It will mean, of course, beating the Habs first round opponent, the New York Rangers. So, before we put any carts before any horses, let's look at the 1st round, and break these two teams down a little:

OFFENCE:

Both clubs enter the playoffs with reasonably deep offences, but big questions surrounding their deployment. Under head coach Alain Vigneault, now in his 5th season behind the New York bench, the Rangers aren't a particularly strong possession team, as this season's rolling game average shows:


The Rangers, as per usual, bring plenty of speed to the rink, bolstered by the infamous Kreider, who's had an excellent campaign with 28 goals scored. Along with Kreider the Rangers have veteran Rick Nash, as well as Mats Zuccarello. The Canadiens defence will need to be fleet to contain the Rangers transition, which has the potential of turning the game in their favour on a dime. The Habs, meanwhile, have managed to build three relatively well balanced lines, headlined by Max Pacioretty, Alex Radulov and Phillip Danault first line pairing. Still, there are big questions surrounding how the Habs offence has been constructed and deployed. At the trade deadline, Marc Bergevin made questionable acquisitions in Steve Ott and Andreas Martinsen, both of whom bring physicality to the Canadiens lineup, but on any given shift, are a significant defensive liability. There's also controversy at hand - with Alex Galchenyuk, the presumed top-6 centre, who's found himself now buried on the 4th line wing along side Ott and Martinsen. If head coach Claude Julien is steadfastly intent on burying one of his best offensive assets on the bottom line, the Canadiens offensive potential will be hampered significantly.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: for the Rangers, keep an eye on both Derek Stepan, who's seeking to have a breakout post-season, and Michael Grabner, who's mired in a deep slump. If Stepan produces, and Grabner finds his game, the Rangers will be keeping Carey Price busy through most of the series. For the Habs, obviously it's Alex Galchenyuk - somehow he's got to find his way back to (at the very least) the Habs 3rd line. Being isolated next to marginal NHL forwards will make his ability to produce points limited at best.

ADVANTAGE: RANGERS


DEFENCE:

The Habs are making a few adjustments to their blue line with Alexei Emelin not playing tonight due to injury. Brandon Davidson, who was picked up at this year's trade deadline, will be in the lineup tonight in his very first playoff game. Otherwise, the Canadiens defence, with or without Emelin, matches up well against any League opponent. We all know Shea Weber's story and what he brings to the table - while Andrei Markov, even at the ripe age of 39, is playing arguably his best hockey in a decade. 

The Rangers' defence is lead of course by captain Ryan McDonagh, who'll be paired with Dan Girardi. While there's no question McDonagh is a top line defender, Girardi, who's had an up-and-down season, might not be the Rangers' best option compared to other more viable candidates like Brandon Smith or even Nick Holden. Vigneault seems to be taking a more diluted approach to his defence, in contrast to the Habs playing their top two defenders, Weber and Markov, together.

Keys players to watch this series. No doubt for the Habs it's Nathan Beaulieu, who had a sparkling training camp and pre season, but has struggled with consistency through most of the season. Beaulieu has demonstrated good puck moving abilities through much of his career - if he's able to consistently feed the puck to his forwards, it'll make the Habs transition and speedy forward much more difficult to contain. For the Rangers, it's Girardi, who we mentioned previously has struggled with consistency through much of the season. If he's able to get his game in order, the Rangers will have a potent shut down 1st pairing.

ADVANTAGE: HABS


GOALTENDING:

On paper, the series appears stacked in the Canadiens' favour. The Habs have a good record against the Rangers this season, winning all 3 contests by a margin of 12-7.

The difference makers in those game, both good and bad, was goaltending. And what helped the Canadiens win during the regular season is likely to help them advance in the playoffs.

From the Rangers perspective, hopes are pinned on King Henrik Lundqvist, the venerable veteran netminder who's had an excellent NHL career playing in a blue shirt.

Against the Habs? The picture changes.

Since 2012, King Henrik has played the Montreal Canadiens 12 times, including the playoffs. He has won 4 times. Of those 4 wins, Carey Price was in net for Canadiens a grand total of zero times. Lundqvist's winning success against the Canadiens, at least those 4 times, was because of this:


That collision came 3 years ago, knocking Price out of the playoffs, and with it, the Habs hopes of advancing to the Stanley Cup final.

What about with Carey Price in goal? Lundqvist's numbers drop to 0-7-1. A 3.22 GAA and a .886 Sv%. Under normal circumstances, those figures wouldn't be good enough to get you a backup job in the NHL.

Price, meanwhile, has owned the Rangers. Never losing over 5 years, Price has put up numbers that under normal circumstances, would result in a Vezina Trophy romp: A 1.29 GAA and a .955 Sv%

ADVANTAGE: HABS


SO WHO'LL WIN?

At the end of the day, the Habs are likely to win this series, because of their significant goaltending edge, and a more properly deployed defence. The Rangers best hopes are in their ability to outscore the Canadiens, meaning their forwards will need to elevate their game significantly, bolstered by a productive powerplay. Habs in 5 games.