Eighteen. Eighteen of the 20 players dressed in game one of the Montreal Canadiens qualifier against the Pittsburgh Penguins played at least one game for the Canadiens last season.
The 2018-19 Canadiens finished with 96 points. They had the best season in NHL and franchise history to miss the post-season. They finished ahead of three playoff teams in the Western Conference. The same record this season (by points percentage) would have made them the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, and 12th in the NHL.
A lot of the conversation leading up to the start of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers were whether the Canadiens deserved to even take part as the 24th-ranked team in a 24 team expanded post-season.
As William Munny says to Little Bill Daggett in Unforgiven, deserve’s got nothing to do with it.
There are many roads to the playoffs. If the Canadiens go on to beat the Penguins — still a big if despite their win in the opener — their .500 point percentage would be the worst 82-game season (without ties) to make the playoffs. In 1996-97, a point percentage of .470 was enough to make the playoffs somehow, but there were ties at that point.
Sometimes you make the playoffs with a .530 (2001-02) or .537 (2009-10) points percentage and upset the top seed. As seen last season, sometimes you miss the playoffs with a points percentage of .585.
Eighteen of the players who played in game one didn’t have an opportunity to play playoff hockey last season. This season, they have that opportunity. Adding Ben Chiarot and Nick Suzuki to that group makes it deeper. There are a lot of reasons that this season’s team was not as successful as the one the year before. No one — even the players themselves — expected to be in this situation when the season was paused in March.
In that way, they are playing with house money. They have a mix of young players taking the chance to gain experience (and simply play hockey) and veterans who have been around long enough to know to make the most of the chances you do get and to not look a gift horse in the mouth.
The players on the Canadiens don’t care about their draft position. They don’t care that they are underdogs, as Shea Weber said prior to the series. They have a chance to make the playoffs simply by winning a best-of-five series.
They may not have the star power, or the 2019-20 results, of the Pittsburgh Penguins but to paraphrase coach Jimmy McGinty from The Replacements, these Canadiens have nothing to lose and that makes them very dangerous people.