For the Montreal Canadiens, tonight's game is a landmine.
With their dismantling of the Ottawa Senators in Kanata last night, the Habs took care of business. First and foremost, the two points earned help to maintain their position of power in their race with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Atlantic Division's second seed. The Lightning now have a game in hand on the Canadiens, but Montreal is a full two points clear of their pending playoff opponent. With only four games remaining (and five for Tampa), the Habs have put themselves in a good position to claim home-ice advantage for the playoffs.
Of course, there was another accomplishment, too. Ending the season (more-or-less officially) of the team that ended Montreal's last year, and doing it with seven straight goals, is endlessly cathartic. The desperate Sens, breathing their last gasp, were dispatched, even if the Habs chose to do it in a dangerous and unlikely fashion. Tonight, they'll have to contend with an even more dangerous situation.
On a four game winning streak, the Detroit Red Wings have fought hard to cement their playoff candidacy. Now up four points on the 9th place Toronto Maple Leafs, not to mention their game in hand, the Red Wings are virtually assured of claiming one of the wild card positions. That said, until the Red Wings reach the 91 point plateau, there are no guarantees, at least for now. The Red Wings are hot, and they need this game.
That brings us to the unpredictable, volatile nature of tonight's affair. While both teams have used recent success to propel them toward improvements in their playoff standing, neither has played good possession hockey. Their possession play over the last ten games is a low point for their season, and even though Detroit's been winning, they've done so on the strength of a large quantity of puck luck. During their streak, the Red Wings have never failed to shoot a percentage less than 9.7 percent, a number that only six teams have managed to sustain over the course of a full season. During the same period, their goaltending tandem consisting of Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson only once put forth a game in which their save percentage was not well above league average.
The Canadiens are in the same boat. They may not be pushing the play, but when a dominant player like Max Pacioretty rolls to a five point night, it doesn't matter. Unfortunately, one team isn't going to get enough bounces to win in spite of themselves tonight. If the Habs want to avoid a potentially explosive situation, maybe they would be better off hedging their bets on controlling the puck instead.
Tale of the Tape
After Peter Budaj played an excellent under the radar game last night, Michel Therrien will turn to Carey Price to man the crease this evening. In his seven career starts against Detroit, Price has played some of the poorer hockey of his career, putting up a save percentage of only .907. In the midst of another excellent season, Price will look to improve those numbers tonight.
The Monster, Jonas Gustavsson, starts in net for the Wings. Gustavsson is the easily identified as the weak link in Detroit's pair of keepers, and the Habs will look to expose him this evening. The Swedish keeper will have other plans, however, trying to add a sixth win to his 5-2-1 career record against Montreal.