The Montreal Canadiens have locked up first place in the Atlantic Division. This has got most Habs fans excited since their team is going into the playoffs hot with home-ice advantage in the first two rounds.
It has others questioning if it is the ideal outcome, as their first-round opponent, the New York Rangers (48-28-6), had a better record than any team the Habs would have faced within their own division.
Would the Canadiens have been better off starting the 2017 NHL Playoffs in second place against an inferior opponent?
In 2013-14, the NHL realigned their divisions and with it came the current playoff format.
Since then, teams with home-ice advantage have 19 series wins and 17 series losses in the first two rounds. That is one series “advantage” for the higher seed in three seasons.
In that time the Canadiens have just one series win as the higher seed and two series losses. The away record is two series wins and zero series losses.
The short history of this playoff format hasn’t significantly favoured the higher-seeded teams, while the Canadiens don’t have a winning record at home.
Under this format, a wild-card team (seventh or eighth seed) could be among the best teams in their conference, or even the entire league. This was true with the New York Rangers, who were a top-five team in the league right until the end of the season and finished fourth overall in the Eastern Conference.
Despite this, the Rangers have been locked into the East’s seventh seed because Metropolitan Division rivals Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Pittsburgh Penguins had better records.
The Rangers finished just one point back of the Canadiens, with one more victory.
This is what has many Habs fans worried. It is not a home-ice league, as outlined above, it is a matchup league, and they don’t know if the Rangers are the ideal first-round opponent for the division champion since that opponent has been a top-tier team all season.
Being a matchup league does raise the point: does it even matter what a team’s final record is? Come playoff time, does it really matter if opponent X won 60 games or 40 if the Canadiens match up well against them?
The table below includes Montreal’s potential first- and second-round opponents, and how the Habs fared against each team this season.
The Canadiens matched up well against all of their potential opponents this season whether they were home (4-2) or away (4-2), with their best record against the Rangers.
None of the information presented points to the Canadiens going deeper in the playoffs by finishing first rather than second, or vice versa.
The Canadiens were strong against all of their potential opponents both home and away and feature a better shot-attempts-for percentage (52.6%) than all teams except the Boston Bruins.
Fans still worrying about the Rangers being a tougher opponent than one of the Atlantic teams should remember that if the Habs advance past the Rangers they get a potentially “weaker” team in the second round while keeping their home-ice advantage.
Which opponent would you have prefered to see the Habs take on in the first round?
This poll is closed
New York Rangers
Toronto Maple Leafs