Who would you rather see at the Bell Centre Tuesday night, Senators or Leafs?
Those are the possibilities, pending Ottawa’s game in Boston on Sunday evening.
After watching the Canadiens easy win on Saturday night, does it really matter?
“On est prêt pour les séries,” Michel Therrien said in his postgame media scrum. “N’inquiétez pas.”
For the benefit of unilingual Canadians – who were doomed to watch Saturday night’s game on Leaf-loving Hockey Night in Canada – the coach said:
“We’re ready for the playoffs. Don’t worry.”
Hit it, Bobby McFerrin.
The last game of the regular season gave Canadiens’ fans ample reason to stop worrying and be very happy.
Anything that brings sorrow to the set of Hockey Night in Canada is cause for celebration, of course.
But the 4-1 dismantling of the Leafs was emphatic. And if the game was a harbinger of the first-round playoff series they’re praying for at HNIC, the Canadiens and their fans can look forward to Tuesday night with some cautious optimism.
Let’s review the happy points:
• James Reimer, who will face Carey Price in a Canadiens-Leafs series, was beaten fur times on 23 shots and watched the last 17 minutes of the game from the Toronto bench.
• Playing in their own barn, the Leafs were held to ONE SHOT in the second period. And seven over the game’s first 40 minutes.
• The Canadiens’ recently inept penalty-killers went 6-for-7 … and the only goal they allowed was a great shot by Phil Kessel.
• The Canadiens were outhit 45-39, but at least one check was recorded by every player in a white jersey – with the exception of Raphael Diaz, who has other virtues.
• The kid line was spectacular. Lars Eller had a goal and two assists, went 8-5 on faceoffs, played 4:27 on the PK and had six hits to lead the team. Brendan Gallagher had a goal and an assist, Alex Galchenyuk had an assist. The line was plus-8 on the game … and still played less than 10 minutes at even strength.
• Jarred Tinordi played almost 15 minutes (including 5:34 on the PK), had four hits and was plus-2.
• Andrei Markov, who had an assist in Winnipeg, added a goal and an assist against the Leafs and was plus-2 while playing a sensible 19 minutes – including a non-taxing 5:36 on the power-play and only a few seconds shorthanded.
• And Therrien continues to push the right buttons.
The coach started Peter Budaj, moved Rene Bourque to right-wing on the David Desharnais line, reunited Gallagher with Eller and Galchenyuk, managed Brandon Prust’s minutes and saw to it that his team kept its cool after falling behind 1-0.
The jury will be out on the goaltender move until we see how Carey Price plays in the postseason opener. But Therrien protected his number-one guy and gave a 10th start to a backup who has been exemplary – Budaj is 8-1-1 – this season.
Therrien said the Canadiens had played “playoff atmosphere” games in Winnipeg and Toronto and responded well to the pressure on both occasions. The easier schedule in the final week of the regular season also allowed time for some decent practices in which, Therrien said, the Canadiens worked on some basics.
We saw that work reflected in the improved PK – although some of that might have been due to the Leafs’ ineptitude. Who knew Tyler Bozak was such a valuable player?
We also saw it in the swarming puck pursuit and rapid transition that characterized the Canadiens play through the first 40 games of the season.
Gaston Therrien showed an example during his whiteboard segment on L’Antichambre. The sequence begins with Tinordi burying Mikhail Grabovski. Josh Gorges scoops up the dislodged puck, while Eller and Galchenyuk are nearby to begin the breakout that culminated in Eller’s goal.
Terrific team defence, lightning-fast transition – qualities that were missing in action during the Canadiens’ recent suckitude.
For one night, against a team that had beaten them 6-0 and 5-1 this season, your Montreal Canadiens looked like they’re ready for the playoffs.
The defence has been bolstered by the return of Diaz, the promotion of Tinordi, the excellence of P.K. Subban and the possible resuscitation of Markov. If the blueline revival continues, Price will not face the high-percentage shooting gallery in which he struggled during the Canadiens’ slump.
Michael Ryder had a rough night in Toronto. He took a bad penalty and was demoted to the fourth line, with Brandon Prust joining Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta.
But Ryder has 20 career playoff goals. I think he’ll bounce back on Tuesday.
The Canadiens will open the playoffs with a lineup that includes three rookies: Gallagher, Galchenyuk and Tinordi.
Can anyone remember this happening in the long and glorious history of hockey’s most successful franchise?
The young core of the team suggests an imminent return to glory.
Starting next week?
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The Canadiens had eight players with 10 or more goals this season, tying Pittsburgh for the league lead … Alex Galchenyuk topped the team’s +/- at plus-14. His pal Brendan Gallagher was plus-10. Brandon Prust was plus-11, P.K. plus-12 … The Canadiens won more games on the road (15) than they did at home (14) … Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, Brian Gionta, Francis Bouillon and Galchenyuk played all 48 games … Peter Budaj had more wins than Jaro Halak this season.
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