Philadelphia (1) vs Montreal (8): Let’s Not Be Delusional
What was supposed to be an easy series for the top-seeded Flyers turned into a battle that, had they not amassed the favour of the hockey gods, could have easily gone the other way. Montreal proved, in this pandemic restart, that they can not only compete with some of the league’s top teams, but can win with a combination of youthful scorers and veteran defenders.
Before the COVID outbreak, the Habs were staring at a 3rd consecutive season without playoff hockey attempting to use this formula. What seemed to be a clear failure of team construction, has turned into a foggy haze that general manager Marc Bergevine must now navigate. Will he allow the last 10 games to shape his offseason plans or will he stay focused on the larger sample size with this streaky group? Remember that the Habs started the season 11-5-4 and looked to be on the upswing following a 94-point season. This series could prove to be a turning point or nothing more then an aberration.
Again, the Montreal Canadiens controlled most of the final game against the Flyers, outshooting them 33-17 and controlling the majority of high-danger chances. This game represented a continuation of a theme that will have Carey Price sleepless.
Montreal outscored Philadelphia 13-11 in the 6-game series; they also managed to tip 6 of the Flyers 11 goals past their own goalie, giving the Flyers the lead needed to win most games. Those 6 goals don’t even include the game 3 winners that bounced off Weber and Vorcek before beating Price. They do, however, include all 3 of the Flyers’ goals in game 6; Ivan Provorov kicked things off by tipping one in off captain Shea Weber. Lehkonen thought he’d help Kevin Hayes put one through the five-hole on Price while the 3rd and decisive goal bounced off Price’s back-side, giving the Flyers their series clinching goal.
Needless to say, with a little luck, the series could have gone very differently. Although the good fortune rested with the Flyers during this series, Montreal was able to shine through the adversity which has created a perception that they have progressed to the next stage in their development as a team.
The organization’s shinning light comes from a position of weakness for the past 20 years which finally looks to be solved. With Nick Suzuki and Jasperi Kotkaniemi stepping into major offensive roles for the club, the success looks to be repeatable.
Suzuki played a key role in keeping Montreal in the game after they kept letting in deflating own-goals. Nick scored a pair of goals and looked to create plays every time he stepped on the ice. Had it not been for some bad bounces, he would have single handily saved their season.
The issue is that the Canadiens must now rely on two young players for their success. Kotkaniemi’s sophomore season should serve as a warning to the team that a young player’s development can be sporadic at times. Even with the youngest players on the team contributing 30% of the offense, it only allowed Montreal to last 6 games in this playoff series.
These kids are giving Price and Weber a shot a competing, but Montreal needs better support for their core-4 players. Jeff Petry is a work horse, Brendan Gallagher is the heart and soul of the team, while Chiarot forms a dominate shut down pair with Weber; outside of these seven players, Montreal needs more depth.
A guy like Domi needs to accept that playing on the wing is the future that awaits him if he chooses to stay in Montreal and Drouin needs to work on his consistency and speed. The Habs need more fire power up front to help to mask a porous defense that is three D-men short of a top six.
Montreal erased the memory of a horrid season with a mediocre 10-game stretch which saw them lose as much as they won. Montreal fans should be tentatively optimistic of their team as they have shown they have the ability to win in high pressure games; the catch is that they have a track record of losing which has been much more consistent than the strong play we saw in some of the series against the Flyers.