Updated: Aug 21, 2020
To say the Penguins were massive favourites in this series is an understatement; most people had the Pittsburgh Penguins walking away with an easy series victory against the Habs. If you followed hockey this year and have been half asleep, you could see that the Penguins had a better team through the regular season and on paper should have blown the Habs away…
But here we are after what was a quiet and classic Montreal style playoff game; the Habs walk away with a 3-1 series victory. The world is in shock. Hockey analysts believed that only a Carey Price return to form could stop what was thought to be a much superior roster. We witnessed a vintage performance but there was much more that knocked out the top seed Penguins.
Not only was Price the best player on the ice for both teams in this series, rocking a .947 SV% but two key pieces for Montreal’s present and future showed out in a big way. Nick Suzuki has been steadily climbing the depth chart after having an OHL Playoffs and Memorial cup for the record books in the spring of 2019. It was obvious before the series started that he would be key in the matchups against Crosby and Malkin.
I would be lying to you if I said I knew he would have shown the two-way potential to play with the game’s elite and become Claude Julien’s most trusted forward. In game 1 he was the best forward and played the entire series like he was a Stanley Cup Playoff veteran. He showed the ability to make the correct decision with poise and under duress on the grandest of stages. He was not the only surprise in the series. The biggest surprise of the series was Jasperi Kotkaniemi. The newly minted 20-year-old showed us why the Canadiens were so eager to take him at 3rd overall in the 2018 draft.
KK slowly but surely regained the trust of his coach by maximizing his minutes. He was playing with a serious purpose and seemed to be trusted more and more every game; today was no exception. The second year forward looked like a Selke trophy winner with his defensive play and he showed his physical side throwing 8 hits. He was also intrusted as the Habs 2nd line center behind Suzuki, having been a big factor in game 3 and scoring the opening goal of the series. If this is a glimpse into the players they have become, Montreal’s future down the middle could be solved for the next 15 years.
This was a culmination of the perfect storm for a team that was on rough seas the entire season. The Habs are fully healthy now; with a 4-month break, Carey Price has returned to his all-world form and Danault has become the perfect third line center for a team with cup hopes. The Habs clearly showed that they have the players to compete with the best players in the world and as they beat a team that is only a few years removed from back-to-back Stanley Cups. This Montreal team with “no offensive talent” chased a two-time Stanley Cup winning goaltender from the series and beat two first ballot hall of famers.
They did this by sticking to their game, controlling the 5-on-5 play and limiting the high-powered Penguins’ offensive chances. They won this series with stellar goaltending, a deep forward group, and 3 d-men; this formula looks to be repeatable.
Tampa Bay is a great team with a high-powered offense, but the Habs have the team to compete and make this a series worth watching. If they can escape the first round with Carey Price looking like the 2015 Hart/Vezina winner, the Eastern Conference and the League should take note.