If you would have told Vegas Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon and Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin that they would meet in the playoffs three years after their big trade, they would have been ecstatic.
If you told them it would be in the semi-final, they likely would have been confused.
As both teams expect big performances from Max Pacioretty and Nick Suzuki, the centrepieces of their September 2018 trade (although a part of me isn’t convinced that Tomas Tatar won’t play a role, either), they are now in the same place, with the same opportunity.
Of course, while both teams are literally in the same place, they are not figuratively. You don’t trade a top prospect for Pacioretty and then expect to lose to that team a few seasons later. The Pacioretty trade was the first in a series of moves that put Vegas from surprise contender to a team that clearly sees itself as a contender. It opened the door for them to trade for Mark Stone, and then sign Alex Pietrangelo.
If losing to a favoured Colorado Avalanche team would have been disappointing, a loss to the Canadiens as favourites would be even more so.
The Canadiens have been down this road before, but from the other side. In their 2014 third-round matchup against the New York Rangers, they faced Ryan McDonagh who they traded to New York five years earlier. The flip side to that is that the Canadiens had no one left from that trade when they met, despite being the favourite.
This will also present a unique opportunity. Pacioretty is only the second former full-time captain of the Canadiens to then face off against the team in the playoffs. The only other time this happened was when Montreal faced Doug Harvey (captain in 1960-61) as a member of the St. Louis Blues in 1968.
Considering the Canadiens used to trade captains like they were made by Upper Deck, it’s pretty remarkable.
The result of this series won’t necessarily define the trade for either team, but there is more pressure on Vegas to pull out the win. Not only because they are favoured, but because they didn’t get Pacioretty, Stone, and Pietrangelo to fall short of the Stanley Cup final for the third straight year. For Montreal, they may very well be playing with house money, but there is pressure on their older players who see time as their enemy.
Going into Game 1, the odds are against Montreal. They haven’t played a game in a week, they aren’t expected to have Jeff Petry in the lineup, and they will be playing in a full arena — on the road — for the first time this season.
That doesn’t mean it’s all bad for the Canadiens. They only need to look at how Vegas responded after a big loss in Game 1 of their last series against Colorado to know that the series isn’t won or lost by the first game.
After Marc Bergevin’s reset, the team finally has another chance to go beyond what it has done in the past.