How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EDT / 4:00 PM PDT
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the USA: NHL Network
In the Blue Jackets region: FOX Sports Ohio
Elsewhere: NHL.tv / Rogers NHL Live
When the schedule was first released all the way back in June of last year, I don’t think anyone marked this particular game on their calendars. By the end of March, the Canadiens were supposed to be at or near the league bottom, either trying to play the role of spoiler or desperately trying to avoid acquiring points in the race for Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko.
The Habs pretty much said “nuts” to that in their first game, a hard-fought 4-3 overtime defeat to the anointed winners of the Tavares sweepstakes, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Through October, November, and December, the Canadiens kept up the pace. When a five-game losing streak threatened to derail their campaign in early November, they responded by winning six of their next eight. When they dropped out of a playoff position in early March after a pathetic showing in Anaheim, they fought back with a 5-2-1 run to jump back into the fray.
And so we come to March 28, 2019, and Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
Tale of the Tape
|54.1% (4th)||Corsi-for pct.||50.1% (13th)|
|3.00 (14th)||Goals per game||3.04 (13th)|
|2.86 (12th)||Goals against per game||2.86 (11th)|
|12.4% (31st)||PP%||15.5% (28th)|
|80.6% (16th)||PK%||84.5% (4th)|
While this is not an elimination game from a mathematical standpoint, for all intents and purposes Thursday night’s showdown will likely decide who secures the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. By Micah Blake McCurdy’s model, both teams enter the fray with roughly a 50-50 shot at making the playoffs. A Montreal victory in regulation would see a ~50-55% swing in favour of the Tricolore, with even an overtime or shootout success swinging the pendulum by ~25-30 points. As for a positive outcome for Columbus ... we won’t speak of such matters here.
While the Canadiens find themselves in the role of upstarts looking to put the final touches on a campaign that has wildly exceeded pre-season expectations, their opponents are looking to put old ghosts to rest. The Columbus Blue Jackets, owners of zero playoff series victories in franchise history, are facing the reality that their window for significant post-season success may be locked shut before it even opened. With stars Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky preparing to enter unrestricted free agency in the off-season, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen has decided that he needs something extraordinarily positive from this campaign.
Going all-in at the trade deadline and acquiring Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel hasn’t exactly panned out the way that Kekalainen had hoped, as the Jackets have stumbled to a 7-7-1 record since. On Sunday night, after three straight defeats, Columbus was very much in the same situation as Montreal was after the Ducks debacle: out of the playoffs and needing a pushback.
Their response? Two games, two wins, nine goals for, zero against.
And so we come again to March 28, 2019. Nationwide Arena in Columbus.
Two franchises: one striving toward past glories, the other trying to shake off past failures.
Two teams: one punching above expectations, the other trying to exceed last year’s accomplishments.
Two coaches: one still putting his stamp on his club, the other trying to find that elusive next level.
Two general managers: one with one eye on the future, the other realizing that the future is — and must be — now.
One game, essentially winner-take-all, for the playoffs.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. The game’s afoot: follow your spirit, and upon this charge cry ‘God for Claude, the Canadiens, and Montreal!’