1. It’s playoff time in Montreal!
Forget everything you have seen since October, because all those 82 previous games did was determine who gets to keep playing hockey, and Montreal is one of those teams. There is definitely something special about playoff time in Montreal, as the city begins to emerge from a long winter and springs to life with a renewed vibrancy and hope. Legend still speaks of those great dynasties of the past and how it galvanized the entire population behind a single goal of pushing the Canadiens all the way to the Stanley Cup that it is so vociferously hungry for.
It all started on Wednesday night with a spectacular opening montage on CBC celebrating the return of five Canadian teams into the playoffs, something that was sorely lacking last season. Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton, and Calgary will all aspire to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada, something that has not happened since the Canadiens won in 1993. Many teams came close: Vancouver in 2011, Ottawa in 2007, Edmonton in 2006, and Calgary in 2004. Can this be the year that the Cup comes back to Canada? More specifically can this be the year that the Montreal Canadiens win their 25th Cup and parade it down Ste. Catherine?
Mme Ginette Reno kicked off the festivities with a stirring rendition of the Canadian national anthem, and if you didn’t have goosebumps, then I don’t know what to tell you.
The #StanleyCup Playoffs kicked off with a beautiful Oh Canada in Montreal. #DontMissAMoment with Sportsnet Now: https://t.co/Th0qRxPZtk pic.twitter.com/w5PpGQANqQ— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 12, 2017
The crowd was driven into a frenzy and the Canadiens came out energized and hitting everything that moved.
2. Special units will still make or break you
Forget everything that happened during the 82 prior games. Everything else is a clean slate. But the basic tenets of hockey remain even though the games are much tighter, checking is a lot closer, and the teams must take advantage of any opportunity they can get. That means special units must be at their peak form.
The Montreal Canadiens unfortunately carried over their power play struggles from the regular season into the playoffs, going 0 for 3 in the first game. Making matters worse they took several bad ill-timed penalties such as Philip Danault’s offensive zone tripping call and Alex Galchenyuk’s faceoff violation.
Thankfully Montreal’s penalty kill remains strong, and they did not allow any goals on four opportunities, including an extended 5-on-3 situation.
Eventually one team will bust through the other’s penalty kill, and that is the team who will take command of the series, so the Canadiens better shake off their funk and start putting it all together.
3. The King is not dead
Some were pointing out that Henrik Lundqvist would be the weak point for the New York Rangers, and that he was over the hill, using his regular season stats as proof that the Canadiens have finally found his number.
#NYR Henrik Lundqvist is 0-5-1 with a 3.45 GAA & .886 SV% in his last 6 games vs the #Habs.— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) April 12, 2017
But as we’ve mentioned before, the playoffs are a whole new season. Lundqvist has made several incredible saves in the playoffs, notably this save against the Canadiens in 2014 that essentially shut down the series in the Rangers favour. Should this goal had gone in, history could have been quite different.
In fact, in the playoffs Lundqvist’s record against the Canadiens is vastly different.
In his career against the Canadiens in the playoffs Henrik Lundqvist is 4-1-1 with— NYR Stats (@NYRStatistics) April 11, 2017
a .922 Save % 2.15 GAA and 1 shutout #NYR
And so Lundqvist was dead set on proving all the naysayers very wrong at the start of the 2017 playoffs, and he played an unbelievable game, making a true statement that he is not to be discarded. He made several incredible saves that kept the game scoreless, with the key one coming against Shea Weber in the second period in what looked like a sure goal.
With the shutout, Henrik Lundqvist earned his tenth playoff shutout, and leads all active goaltenders in that category.
Henrik Lundqvist: 10 postseason shutouts leads active goaltenders— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 13, 2017
4. The fourth line situation
When Claude Julien first assembled the line of Alex Galchenyuk/Steve Ott/Andreas Martinsen it was met with completely justified confusion. Once it came time to play some playoff hockey, that very fourth line applied a lot of physical pressure. Unfortunately it did not yield many goals. The other lines were essentially choked out by the Rangers, especially the futile attempts at dump-and-chase hockey. Montreal was unable to capitalize on its speed to create any sort of turbulence in the offensive zone, rarely being able to set up a cycle or create open space off of a forechecking play. Meanwhile the fourth line just came crashing and bashing in, creating their own space. It’s clearly the type of hockey that players like Ott and Martinsen were brought in for. But it’s absolutely not the type of play that will lead to Galchenyuk scoring goals.
On the flip side, Dwight King clearly couldn’t keep up with Artturi Lehkonen and Andrew Shaw.
If only there was a skilled forward available to play on that line and re-accommodate King to the fourth...
5. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint”
With the Canadiens losing game one of the series they have surrendered home ice advantage to the Rangers, however the series is still very young. Going back to the predictions for this series, nobody said that the Canadiens were going to sweep the Rangers, and therefore the loss, however unfortunate, was inferred in everyone’s views. The Canadiens will now have to go back, analyze the tapes, learn, and adjust from this game. Why was the Rangers slow defensive corps able to neutralize their forecheck? What can they do to open up the ice for their best forwards? What is the answer to their flaccid power play? Claude Julien and his team of assistants will have two days to put it all together as the teams will meet again on Friday night for game two at the Bell Centre.