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A 3-0 series lead isn't what it used to be, and the Canadiens may be in danger

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All it takes to tip the scales in a playoff series are a few small errors, and it's possible that the Senators have finished making theirs.

Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

Can the Ottawa Senators come back from 3-0?

After watching the initial 3 games I couldn’t believe all the self destructive things the Sens had done to put themselves in this giant hole. And while 3-0 is still a longshot, this series reminded me of something Tyler Dellow said last season as the Kings were climbing out of their hole.

If we know that teams that go up 3-0 now are probably not much better than the team they’re beating, we can infer that they’re probably fortunate to be up 3-0; they’ve caught some bounces. It’s not 1972 anymore, with the Bruins beating up on the Blues 23-5 through the first three games of the Cup semis before wrapping up the series with a 5-3 win. The gaps between playoff teams are, in general, not that large.

Dellow summed up this series in a nutshell. Fortune is a better word than luck because the Senators made the decision to ride rookie Andrew Hammond because of his end of season miracle finish and didn’t heed the warning signs in game one to move to the veteran Craig Anderson. The fact is, the Montreal Canadiens aren’t a great team. They rely very heavily on Carey Price and you can carry the play against them.

Through 4 games the Habs are actually over 50% in terms of possession and carry a solid 52% Fenwick when the score is close. This matched up with the eye test, but I also saw a lot of perimeter shots that didn’t really force the Sens goaltenders into tough positions. When I mapped the shots on a heat map it became clear that this series was extremely tight.

Price_Sens

While the Canadiens hold a 25 shot advantage through 4 games, all of that advantage lies in the perimeter. The Sens actually hold the advantage in the highest scoring areas and have peppered Carey Price with green shots. Once again, Price masks the inefficiencies of this defense, and allows Michel Therrien to consistently play a player like Alexei Emelin without regards to matchups.

Emelin

One of the frustrating things for Habs fans is watching 2014-15 edition of Douglas Murray clearing the crease, looking for hits and blindly throwing pucks up the boards while being pummelled offensively in his own zone. Above is Emelin’s on ice events for (left) and against (right). Michel Therrien didn’t even attempt to shelter him matching him up with the Bobby Ryan line in Montreal. In Ottawa, the Sens matched him up with the Kyle Turris line and bludgeoned the Habs while he was on the ice.

Tom Gilbert has played 57 even strength minutes with Nathan Beaulieu and Jeff Petry and his expected goals against was just under 1 at .939. Gilbert played his off side with Emelin for 11 minutes and his expected goals against was 1.356. The Sens would be wise to continue to target Emelin every time he's on the ice.

Goaltending has been a major factor for the Sens. The Habs were forced to play game one without Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban was lost for half of the game to a misconduct, and Ottawa failed to capitalize.

Expected_Habs_Sens

When we look at the actual goals scored and the expected totals we see how the Habs jumped out to their 3-0 series lead. Of the extra 33 exterior shots the Habs have fired at Anderson and Hammond, the reward is only one extra goal. The Sens have been able to penetrate the slot area and gained that goal back and should have been rewarded with more. The problem is Carey Price.

Statistically through three games, the Sens goaltending was around average. That is an issue when you aren’t dominating the flow of play and the other goaltender is the possible MVP. In games where one bounce can make a difference, Hammond consistently broke the Sens back when he couldn’t stop clean looks. Anderson came in, and through 70 minutes stopped all the exterior stuff he needed to until he made an error on Dale Weise’s overtime winner.

Hammond_Anderson

"What if" the Sens had started out with Anderson? I understand why they started Hammond and why they gave him the start in game two. A 20-1-2 record will gain you the benefit of the doubt. The problem is he self destructed in game one and of the seven goals he gave up over two games, five were of the red variety. Craig Anderson is a veteran and can be counted on to provide you with an opportunity to win. In both games he was consistent in stopping the exterior stuff and making the occasional great save. He made one error on the Dale Weise goal, but both his starts have been under the extreme pressure of one goal of support.

This brings me back to the Dellow quote, and the factor fortune played in the Habs commanding 3-0 lead. This series could easily be 3-1 for the Senators if we just flip the OT results. The majority of fans believe that this series is all but over, but the landscape is slowly shifting and Sean Mcindoe at Grantland brought up five reasons why he believed the Sens could come back. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Sens began to carry the play and Anderson continues to replicate what he provided in games 3 and 4. The Sens biggest obstacle is Carey Price. He almost stole game 4, and the Sens have to beat him, and hope the Habs have used up all their series bounces just to get it to a game 7.

The odds are stacked against the Senators and after what I have seen from Price in 2014-15 I wouldn’t bet against him, but this series isn’t a foregone conclusion, and if the Habs can’t close out the series tonight, hold on tight because this will get wild in a hurry.