Eastern Conference Quarter-finals: Game 5
How to watch
Start time: 8:00 PM EDT / 5:00 PM PDT
In Canada: CBC, Sportsnet (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the US: NBCSN
Streaming: Sportsnet Now
Despite all the discourse surrounding the Montreal Canadiens’ lack of skilled forwards, they were only shut out a single time in the 2019-20 regular season. In the past three days alone they’ve been blanked by the Philadelphia Flyers twice, and that has the team from Pennsylvania one win from moving on.
The Flyers deserve a lot of credit for their play. It’s been a full 18-skater performance over the past two games to clog up the neutral zone and prevent any rush chances. They were lucky to survive so many shots off posts in Game 3, but it’s otherwise been a suffocating system that prevents creative play.
That system only works if the Flyers have a lead to protect, so getting on the board early — as they did just over a minute into Game 2 — has to be the top priority, and the only acceptable start to Wednesday night’s game.
Tale of the Tape
|2.00||Goals per game||2.29|
|1.63||Goals against per game||1.29|
One candidate to get that early goal has to be Nick Suzuki. He was one of the most creative players the Canadiens had yesterday, just missing a connection with Max Domi for a great scoring opportunity, and was later given the star of Montreal’s post-season, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, as a winger late in the game.
It was in situations like the one the Habs face tonight that Suzuki really came alive for the Guelph Storm in last year’s run to an OHL title. The legend started to grow when the Storm fell behind 0-3 to the London Knights in the second round, and Suzuki was instrumental in pulling the team all the way back to pull off the reverse sweep. At the end of a long post-season run, Suzuki had faced emilination six times, and posted seven goals and 10 assists in the matches with his season on the line; 17 of the 42 points he put up on his way to post-season MVP honours. He then added another seven points in the Memorial Cup tournament versus the top competition the Canadian Hockey League had to offer.
It was that performance that really put him in the conversation for an NHL roster spot this season. He steadily progressed in his rookie year in the top league, and has become one of the Canadiens’ best, and most reliable, forwards in these Stanley Cup Playoffs. There’s no doubt he has the skill set and mindset to thrive in big-game situations, so don’t be surprised if he’s very noticeable in tonight’s game.
It would help if his linemates were up to the same level, and the wingers haven’t been particularly effective in this series as a whole. That’s probably because the wings are exactly where the Flyers want teams to have the puck, as they ensure there are no good outlets to make a pass off the boards.
The Habs would be best served by refusing to get sucked into that trap, doing everything in their power to keep the puck in the middle of the ice. The cycle game isn’t working, and Philadelphia sets up to prevent retrieval on dump-ins. The Canadiens need to attack the middle as a unit to beat the system, and Suzuki’s skill level will be key in getting a puck through the maze of sticks to create some scoring opportunities.