How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EDT / 4:00 PM PDT
In Canada: CBC, Sportnet East/Ontario/Pacific (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the US: NHL Network
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Live
When you’re getting ready for the post-season, you always want to go in feeling good about your game. “Peaking at the right time” as they say. Putting together a three-game winning streak from April 30 to May 3, including a come-from-behind win over the Toronto Maple Leafs to cap it off, it certainly looked like the Montreal Canadiens were doing just that. The dormant offence was coming to life, and there was just a bit more attention to detail needed on the defensive side of things.
You could forgive the Canadiens for not finding a match with the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night stimulating enough to bring out that playoff-calibre game. They squandered a chance to add two more points in their quest to secure their playoff berth, but there were bigger fish on the upcoming schedule, and surely the Habs were going to be better against the Leafs and Edmonton Oilers to end the season.
That theory was debunked on Saturday when the Leafs scored just 16 seconds into the contest when Alex Galchenyuk backhanded a shot from the slot through Cayden Primeau. Toronto put three more pucks behind a rattled goaltender over the remainder of the period, the Canadiens lost any fighting spirit they did have, and the game was virtually decided after 20 minutes.
Tale of the Tape
|54.6% (2nd)||Corsi-for pct.||50.9% (11th)|
|2.83 (16th)||Goals per game||3.36 (5th)|
|2.91 (17th)||Goals against per game||2.60 (8th)|
|20.0% (18th)||PP%||20.6% (15th)|
|78.9% (19th)||PK%||77.2% (26th)|
Now rather than just wanting to play well leading up to a first-round playoff series, they need to add a bit more desperation to their game to claim a few points and cover off the teams behind them. The chances of the Calgary Flames or Vancouver Canucks overtaking them is quite unlikely, but the Canadiens save themselves the hassle of scoreboard watching by taking care of their own business.
If you’re wondering about the actual results required, the Canadiens can run the Flames out of road with a single point. Anything less than Calgary winning every game and Montreal losing their remaining three knocks them out of the running.
Despite Montreal taking 15 of a possible 18 points in a nine-game series, the Vancouver Canucks aren’t quite dead yet. They still have the ability to finish two points up on Montreal, and could afford to lose one of their games if they win the rest, six of seven of those in regulation (the first tiebreaker), should Montreal fail to earn any more points. If the Canucks can increase their season regulation-win total by 30% in their final eight games played in a 12-day span (which could lead to an instance of having to pull their goaltender late in a tied game), they have a chance of getting their revenge and bumping Montreal from a spot. If the Canucks earn two points in the late game, the Habs’ spot won’t be secured even if they win tonight.
First and foremost, the goaltending needs to be solid to have a chance against the Leafs, and that unfortunately wasn’t the case for Primeau on Thursday, who struggled with his rebound control and, surprising, his positioning, which has always been one of his strengths. The moment seemed too big for the 21-year-old, who obviously needs a bit more work to be comfortable on the biggest stage.
Jake Allen had to come in to replace his teammate, and did well in his second appearance in 24 hours. He helped his team outscore the opponent in the final 40 minutes, even if he couldn’t hold Auston Matthews off the board. At least Matthews has his 40th goal of the year out of the way before Saturday’s rematch, and the broadcast crew can ... talk about some other related topic all night long.
One thing they should discuss at length is the play of Cole Caufield, who now has three goals in his last four games as he gets comfortable being a go-to offensive player on the ice. Whether he’s playing on the second line, the first, or even the fourth with Corey Perry as he did at the end of last game, he’s findiing ways to get open, and teammates are finding him for passes.
The reason for the shuffle was the loss of Caufield’s initial centreman shortly after the game started. Phillip Danault had tried to play through something that had been bothering him since at least the previous night, and quickly discovered he was unable to play through it.
Danault also won’t be available tonight, so it’s not an ideal situation the Canadiens go into down their top defensive centre. They do still have Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jake Evans, and Eric Staal available to flesh out the depth down the middle.
Also ruled out is Carey Price, who is running out of games to get back into the swing of things before the regular season comes to an end. He’s now been out since April 19, missing the previous 10 games while recovering from a concussion. It is a bit concerning that it’s taking him so long to recuperate, but at least Allen has given the team a chance to win each game, and that will be no less true tonight.