Check the standings.
The Canadiens have moved to within seven points of the Leafs, who are clinging to the conference’s final playoff spot. If goal differential determined the standings, the Canadiens would be in sixth place. Their 5-0 win in Toronto elevated Goals-for to 149, which is equal to the number of goals the Canadiens have allowed this season.
They’re even scoring on the power play: three in the last four games. And the league’s best penalty-kill pitched another shutout at the ACC.
Dare we whisper the word?
It’s still an uphill climb against steep odds, but …
Let’s look at the week ahead:
Carolina at the Bell Centre on Monday night, then a visit by the Bruins on Wednesday. If the Canadiens win those two games, the city will be in a frenzy.
Then a weird weekend: in Buffalo on Friday night, followed by a 6 p.m. Sunday game against New Jersey at the Bell Centre.
If the Canadiens can sweep or win three out of four …
Again, making the playoffs is a longshot. After the Devils visit, the Canadiens play three of their next four games on the road, including two games in Florida.
The March schedule is brutal: Nine of 15 games on the road, including a western swing through Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. The month ends with a very tough back-to-back on the road: Rangers and Washington.
Of the other teams scrambling for playoff spots, Buffalo, the Islanders, Tampa Bay and Washington hold games in hand on the Canadiens.
OK, my little stroll through the schedule places us officially way ahead of ourselves – and layers anxiety about the future over the sheer joy of pounding the snot out of Leafs on a night when Toronto honoured one the best players in franchise history.
With help from his goalposts, Carey Price racked up his fourth shutout of the year. Through the Canadiens’ four-game winning streak, Price has a goals-against average of 0.98 and save percentage of 96.7.
He is in the zone. And as was the case during the Islanders’ power-play bombardment Thursday night, Price’s positioning was so great against Toronto he barely broke a sweat. No scrambling, no flopping around in the crease, no panic giveaways.
The goal tender is playing with total confidence – and it’s radiating out to the skaters.
The usual suspects were great in Toronto. Price, of course, but also Josh Gorges, who has blocked 15 shots during the win streak; P.K. Subban , who played 20:36 and continues to thrive on reduced ToI, increased concentration on D and a marked diminution in yapping; Alexei Emelin, whose mind-boggling nine hits at the ACC gave him 22 in these four wins, and the other Dmen who deserve props for a shutout: Chris Campoli (a very effective 15:17), Hal Gill (almost six minutes on the PK). Raphael Diaz (barely noticed him, which is good) and Tomas Kaberle.
Randy Cunneyworth won his 10th game and made some adroit line adjustments. With Travis Moen out, the coach used Rene Bourque with Tomas Plekanec (two assists, 16 faceoff wins) and Mathieu Darche (a goal, an assist, 18:43 of ice time). Rising to the standard of his linemates, both of whom have excelled during the winning streak, Bourque played a smart, disciplined, high-energy game and bagged extra ice time with Scott Gomez and Andrei Kostitsyn.
Hey, does anyone miss Mike Cammalleri?
The DD line was great again: Erik Cole got his 20th goal, Max Pacioretty his 23rd and their centre picked up a pair of assists while winning 11 of 19 faceoffs.
I really liked the Kid Line. Lars Eller embarrassed Dion Phaneuf and beat James Reimer with a highlight-reel goal that made it 4-zip and drove a nail into the Leafs’ coffin. Hustling linemates Louis Leblanc and Aaron Palushaj followed up on the strong game they played against Winnipeg to start the streak on Super Bowl Sunday.
Eight points in seven days.
Topic for Sunday Discussion:
With two weeks to the trade deadline, what should Pierre Gauthier do?