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The fate of the Montreal Canadiens is now secured, thanks to an overtime win from the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday night. Those two points made it impossible for the Habs to catch the Coyotes, locking them into 32nd place.
It was a result Montreal could have cemented itself with a loss earlier that night, and that made for an odd feeling while watching them play their game. Every goal Montreal scored reduced their chance of getting the necessary loss, especially against a New York Rangers team that decided to withhold its best players.
We can now look back with hindsight and appreciate some of the plays Montreal made, including another good night for Samuel Montembeault, two goals from Jeff Petry who is more consistently looking like a top-pairing defenceman in the final stretch of the season, and a 60th point of the campaign for Nick Suzuki as he set up a Mike Hoffman one-timer.
Fortunately, the result is moot for the final game of the season tonight, and everyone can just cheer any good play the Habs make versus the Florida Panthers in the final game of a very difficult season.
Tale of the Tape
|45.1% (29th)||Scoring-chances-for %||56.8% (1st)|
|2.57 (31st)||Goals per game||4.14 (1st)|
|3.89 (32nd)||Goals against per game||2.86 (11th)|
|13.4% (31st)||PP%||24.1% (7th)|
|75.8% (25th)||PK%||79.8% (15th)|
The question will be how the Panthers approach the game. Last night they rested Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Claude Giroux, MacKenzie Weegar, Gustav Forsling, and Sergei Bobrovsky — and still got a 4-0 shutout win, claiming the Presidents’ Trophy when the Colorado Avalanche couldn’t keep pace. Do they take this opportunity to rest those players for a second straight night to give them a long rest for the playoffs, or do they make sure their stars go into the post-season in good game shape by playing the final contest?
Regardless of who plays for the visiting team, the Habs have played decently versus Florida this year, especially considering that the two teams are ending the season at extreme opposite ends of the standings. After a 5-2 loss on New Year’s Day when they were dealing with a COVID outbreak, the Canadiens fell by a 4-3 score on March 24, then battled back from a 4-1 deficit to tie the game five days later before the Panthers took control in the third.
Huberdeau has put together an incredible year in Florida. In a season with 35 players who dressed for at least 70 games currently at or above a point-per-game rate, he’s the only one to average more than one assist per contest (Connor McDavid and Artemiy Panarin are close), and he’s added 30 goals to boot to sit tied for 44th in that category alone. He’s only been held off the scoresheet 13 times in 80 games, with at least two points in each of the three games played versus Montreal this year.
Florida’s regular-season numbers are remarkable, but the players all get their numbers reset to zero after tonight’s action. The Panthers were also a very good team last year but didn’t make it past the first round as goaltending let them down versus the eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning. They haven’t made the post-season many times since playing in the Stanley Cup Final back in 1996, and haven’t advanced past the opening round on the six occasions they have made it.
The team has committed a lot of resources to its run this year, with former Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot joining Giroux as its deadline acquisitions. Given how desperate they are to turn their fortunes around, you can probably expect them to be eager for a win to send them off to the post-season, even in this first-versus-worst matchup.