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The playoffs are a chance to clear the fog surrounding the Montreal Canadiens

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The ups and downs of the pandemic season have only raised more questions about the state of the team and its players.

NHL: MAY 08 Canadiens at Maple Leafs Photo by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Montreal Canadiens have made the playoffs.

No, this is not new news. The Canadiens’ ticket to the dance was officially printed on Monday, May 10, but their invitation has been more or less a foregone conclusion for the better part of a month. Nevertheless, it’s nice to see the fact laid out in print.

The Montreal Canadiens have made the playoffs.

Montreal’s presence in the post-season does not magically absolve the team of all of its faults. Truly, the only consistent thing about the Canadiens is their inconsistency. Still, perhaps that’s not the thing to focus on right now.

After all, the Canadiens have come through an unprecedented season. A schedule about as unpredictable as the team’s play, a rash of injuries that would have torpedoed previous incarnations, a coaching change that forgot to address the team’s defensive tactics, 19 matches against the league’s best point-getter and goal-scorer, a farcical experience with three-on-three overtime — the Canadiens have scaled more peaks and ridden more valleys than Ryder Hesjedal.

So all in all, it’s hard to get a read on this team. How does one judge how a team would perform under “normal” circumstances when this particular squad has never experienced them? How does one figure out if a player is overwhelmed by an unparalleled situation, or just less gifted than initially believed?

Again, that’s not to write off the failures of this season or to say that the successes can be repeated with absolute certainty, but the underlying context of this season cannot be ignored.

We’ve seen a juggernaut burst out of the gate, the old habits that cost Claude Julien his job, the growing pains of a rookie coach trying to stamp his authority on the scion of two old wolves, and the ragged efforts of a wounded creature limping to the finish line. Is it any surprise that we’ve seen two, three, four, or even more different versions of most individual players not named Brendan Gallagher?

This makes the blank slate presented by the playoffs a blessing. After all, there will be no salary-cap considerations and relatively few health concerns to hamstring deployment in Game 1. The Canadiens even have a week off to rest prior to the series beginning (the Vancouver Canucks giveth and they taketh away). Much like the start of the season, the pressure is off a Habs team that is a heavy underdog against a Toronto Maple Leafs club already crowned by many as kings of the North.

After a season of uncertainty, the playoffs will serve as the litmus test for many of the team’s still unanswered questions:

  • Facing off against Auston Matthews, can Phillip Danault justify the top dollar that he seeks?
  • With many of his shackles loosened, can Dominique Ducharme shed the interim label?
  • Is Shea Weber’s decline irreversible, or does the Man Mountain just need a bit of extra maintenance?
  • Will this be the last we see of the Tomas Tatar-Danault-Gallagher trio?
  • Can Alexander Romanov cement a permanent presence on the blue line, or will his play earmark him for a potential AHL stint next year?
  • Will Artturi Lehkonen justify expansion draft protection? Will Ben Chiarot? Brett Kulak? Jake Evans?

And the biggest question of them all: Will Marc Bergevin, who has claimed to be building a team to take him “through the playoffs” for many years, be vindicated in his vision or hoisted with his own petard?

Whether it lasts four or 24 games, whether you’re an optimist or pessimist, this playoff run will bring some much needed clarity to a team shrouded in fog facing a pivotal offseason. That’s reason enough to sit back and enjoy the ride.