Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Playoff Preview: Canadiens vs Lightning (Round 1, Game 4)

HabsBolts_Playoffs 
Match Up:

The Canadiens take to Bell Centre ice on Tuesday, looking to close out the first round series against the Lightning in front of their faithful. The game starts at 7:00 and airs on RDS and CBC.

The Habs have gone 3-for-3 so far this series and have the first opportunity to eliminate a team from the 2014 playoffs. The Lightning can take solace in the fact 2 of the 3 games could have gone either way, they lost Game 1 in overtime and dropped Game 3 by a goal after a controversial disallowed marker.

What to Watch:

Rene Bourque is on a tear, opening the scoring Sunday with a goal 11 seconds into the game. He finished the night with 8 shots and leads the team with 15 through 3 games. Brendan Gallagher and Lars Eller each have points in all 3 playoff games for the Habs. Eller's point streak stretches back to the regular season, he has 7 points in his last 5 games.

Steven Stamkos is up to 4 points in the playoffs after assisting on both Tampa Bay goals Sunday Night. Despite recording 3 straight losses, the play of Anders Lindback has improved during the playoffs. Lindback made 28 saves in Sunday's 3-2 loss and did what he could to keep his team in the game despite a handful of top-quality scoring chances for Montreal.

What's at Stake:

The Canadiens have a chance to close out this series and move on to the second round for the first time since 2010. A win on Tuesday would see the Habs as the first team through to the second round in this year's playoffs, giving them plenty of all important rest and time to prepare for the winner of Boston-Detroit. A win for the Lightning would keep their playoff dreams alive and shift the series back to Tampa for Game 5.

Who's Out:

The Canadiens are missing Travis Moen (concussion) for at least one more game, but he's received the green light for contact. Alex Galchenyuk (knee) is still out for the time being.

The Lightning are missing Ben Bishop (elbow). Steven Stamkos, who missed the end of the second period in Game 3 is expected to play game 4.

What Else:

The Canadiens are looking to sweep their first playoff Series since eliminating the Buffalo Sabres in 4 en route to their last Stanley Cup in 1993. The haven't been on the verge of a sweep since that series, but they have been swept 3 times since, once by the Lightning. The Habs have gone up 3 games to none 30 other times in their history, winning Game 4 in 22 of those cases.

The Question Mark:

Which teams look most to you like Cup threats so far? Are the Habs in that mix?

Let us know what you think, leave us a comment or send us a tweet with the #MTLHockey hashtag on Twitter.

Be sure to tune into the Montreal Hockey Talk Pregame Show an hour before the puck drop and the Post Game Show 5 minutes after the final siren. Join the live conversation by using the #MTLHockey hashtag on Twitter.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday Musings: Why The Habs Are Nearing A Sweep Of Tampa

Greetings Habs Addicts!

What a week for Les Habitants! The NHL playoffs began and the Habs went down to Tampa Bay to face the Lightning in the first round. Montreal struggled against Tampa this season, although they played four very close games. Tampa held the edge compiling a 3-0-1 record against the Habs. All but one of the games finished with 2-1 scores, the last game ended 3-1 as Tampa managed to add an empty-net goal. With home ice advantage, most hockey pundits were taking Tampa to move onto the second round.

Not. So. Fast.

Game One was absolutely dominated by the Habs. They out-worked, out chanced and drastically out-shot the Lightning. And after regulation, the score was tied 4-4. Carey Price allowed four goals on 16 shots, while Anders Lindback allowed four goals on 35 shots. In the case of Tampa's goals, it was quality over quantity as most of them came after bad turnovers by Habs defenders left him in a bad spot. Both teams fired nine shots on goal in the overtime, but the dominant team prevailed when Dale Weise fired home the game winner with just under two-minutes to go in the extra frame. Habs win 5-4 in overtime.
Dale Weise celebrates his OT winner with P.K. Subban.
Photo Credit: MontrealGazette.com

Everyone expected a stronger performance from Carey Price in Game Two. He was average at best in Game One before standing on his head in overtime. If Montreal came out with the same intensity, and Price was just slightly better, they should win easily. Game Two saw the Bolts come out strong early on, firing 11 shots on goal in the opening frame, five less than they managed all of Game One. Price stopped them all. The game remained scoreless after one period. In the second, David Desharnais got the Habs on the board before the much-maligned Rene Bourque tallied to give the Habs a comfortable 2-0 lead. In the third period, a terrible Tampa give-away landed on the stick of Brendan Gallagher and he made them pay. A few minutes later, Bourque tallied again to give Montreal a 4-0 lead. Tampa managed to get on the board with just under two minutes to go, with Teddy Purcell breaking the shutout bid. That was it for the Tampa offense. Price stopped 26 of 27 shots in a dominant 4-1 Habs victory. Montreal effectively took away home ice advantage by sweeping both games and headed home with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Game Three saw the series shift to Montreal. After an incredible opening ceremony, Rene Bourque took a feed from P.K. Subban immediately after the opening faceoff and darted behind the defense and roofed one on Anders Lindback. 1-0 Habs after only 11 seconds of play. The rejuvenated Bourque played another strong game, going hard into the corners and the net and winning battles for the puck. The Bourque the Habs thought they traded for has finally arrived the past couple of games. Sure the sample size is small, but his play is reminiscent of how he played in Calgary when he had back-to-back 20+ goal seasons. The second period saw a weak penalty call on Daniel Briere lead to the tying goal, but an Bobby Orr-esque rush around the offensive zone by P.K. Subban ultimately resulted in Brendan Gallagher scoring his second goal of the series to give the Habs the lead. Subban lifted fans out of their seat and demonstrated why he is one of the best puck movers in the game. And demonstrated why you can accept the mistakes he makes. Overall, Subban has been on fire this series and this first game in Montreal was P.K. at his finest. Tomas Plekanec scored early in the third period, what proved to be the game winning goal in a 3-2 Montreal victory. The Habs now lead the series 3-0. En feu!

Coming up this Tuesday, Game Four of the series will be played at the Bell Centre with Montreal looking to complete the sweep. No one expected Tampa Bay to be in this situation. While the matchups during the regular season were close and ultimately dominated by Tampa Bay, both of these squads have a vastly different look to them during this series. Most notably:

  • Montreal has an elite NHL playmaker and sniper in Thomas Vanek playing on a line with another elite sniper in 39-goal man Max Pacioretty. This top line has been on fire during the latter part of the season and makes Montreal a very dangerous - and balanced - offense. Vanek only played in only one previous matchup. 
  • Martin St. Louis is now a member of the New York Rangers, with Ryan Callahan playing for the Lightning. While Steven Stamkos is back in the line-up, his elite playmaking setup-man is no longer on the team. 
  • Ben Bishop led Tampa Bay all season long and is a dark-horse Vezina Trophy candidate this season. Bishop is out for this series and Anders Lindback has not been as strong in goal, nor was he at all this season. Lindback is a step down from what Bishop brings to the table for Tampa. 
There is no question that this Lightning squad is weaker than the one the Habs matched up with for most of the season. Injuries and personal issues have seen Bishop, Ondrej Palat, Ryan Malone, Sami Salo miss time. Trading Martin St. Louis - the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner - to the Rangers weakened the offense and has allowed teams to target Stamkos and let the rest of the roster try and beat them. While Ryan Callahan brings many leadership intangibles to the game along with grit, he's never scored 30 goals, nor posted more than 55 points in any regular season and he does not possess the on-ice vision and creativity that St. Louis brought to the lineup. The injury to Ben Bishop is far and away the deal-breaker for this playoff series. Montreal having to rely on Peter Budaj for this round would be competitive, but in worse shape than having All-World Carey Price in goal. You just simply don't replace someone of that talent level. 

This series is far from over but Montreal certainly has a stranglehold on it. Tampa made some lineup changes heading into Game Three to try and make themselves tougher, notably inserting tough-guy B.J. Crombeen along with the physical Tom Pyatt onto the fourth line while adding Mark Barberio on defense. While Tampa out-hit the Habs, they still had little answer for the skill that Montreal brought to the table. The rejuvenated Rene Bourque is making people forget about the lacklustre regular season he brought forward. P.K. Subban has been disciplined and setting up important goals and the Habs have received production from all four of their lines. Bourque (3), Plekanec (2), Gallagher (2), Desharnais (1), Vanek (1), Eller (1), Weise (1) and Gionta (1) have all scored during this series. Only Francis Bouillon, Andrei Markov and Michael Bournival have failed to record a point this round. Michel Therrien is confident in all four lines and this depth has allowed the Habs to remain fresh all game long. The way Montreal is distributing the puck and receiving production from all four lines, that should change next game.

Get the brooms out, Montreal. Let's sweep this!

 ---
Nick M. is a transplanted Montrealer, currently living in evil LeafLand. He is a contributor here at HabsAddict.com and give him a follow, as he can often be found rambling on Twitter.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Playoff Preview: Canadiens vs Lightning (Round 1, Game 3)

HabsBolts_Playoffs 
Match Up:

The Canadiens return to Montreal with a 2-0 series lead over the Lightning after a pair convincing victories in Tampa Bay. Game 3 goes Sunday night at 7:00 and airs on CBC and RDS.

The Habs scored 4 straight goals before Teddy Purcell added a late power play marker to spoil Carey Price's shutout bid. Rene Bourque scored a pair for the Canadiens, including the game winner. The Canadiens also ended their power play drought going 1-for-4 on the man advantage.

What to Watch:

The line of Lars Eller, Brian Gionta and Rene Bourque have combined four 4 of Montreal's 9 goals in this series, including a shorthanded marker by the captain. Eller leads the Habs with 3 points in the playoffs. David Desharnais got his first career playoff goal and Max Pacioretty earned his first playoff point in Friday's game.

Tampa's coach, John Cooper, will have a tough decision to make as far as his starting goalie for Game 3 is concerned. Anders Lindback was pulled after allowing 3 goals on 23 shots in Game 2, while his replacement Kristers Gudlevskis gave up a goal on one of 3 shots faced in relief.

What's at Stake:

The Canadiens can put a stranglehold on the Lightning Sunday night, with a chance to take a 3-0 series lead. The Lightning are essentially fighting for their playoff lives after losing both of their opening home games.

Who's Out:

The Canadiens are still missing Alex Galchenyuk (knee) but Travis Moen (concussion) could be ready to play on Sunday if called upon.

Ondrej Palat (upper body) missed Game 2 for Tampa and is day-to-day. Ben Bishop (elbow) is still about a week away from a return.

What Else:

The Canadiens will try to erase the memory of their last 2-0 series lead, one they couldn't capitalize on against the eventual Cup-winning Bruins in 2011. After taking a 2-0 series lead in Boston, the Habs lost the next 3 games, including a back-and-forth Game 4 that saw the Canadiens blow 3-1 and 4-3 leads before eventually losing 5-4 in overtime.

The Question Mark:

Which other series are you enjoying most?

Let us know what you think, leave us a comment or send us a tweet with the #MTLHockey hashtag on Twitter.

Be sure to tune into the Montreal Hockey Talk Pregame Show an hour before the puck drop and the Post Game Show 5 minutes after the final siren. Join the live conversation by using the #MTLHockey hashtag on Twitter.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Playoff Preview: Canadiens at Lightning (Round 1, Game 2)

HabsBolts_Playoffs 
Match Up:

After a back and forth Game 1 that finished with Overtime heroics by Dale Weise and Daniel Briere, the Canadiens and Lightning square off for Game 2 Friday night in Tampa Bay. The match starts at 7:00 and can be seen on RDS and CBC.

The Canadiens went up 1-0 in the best of seven series with a 5-4 OT win on Wednesday, but despite out-shooting the Bolts 44-25 and looking dominant for most of the match, the game stayed tight the whole way through. Neither team was able to build more that a 1-goal lead in the game, and the longest a team was able to hold onto their lead was a shade over 3 minutes.

What to Watch:

The Canadiens got contributions from all 4 lines in Wednesday's game, and defenseman Alexei Emelin chipped in with a pair of assists. Lars Eller and Brian Gionta found a bit of chemistry on Wednesday, collaborating on a pair of goals, including a shorthanded marker that erased Tampa's second and final lead of the game. Daniel Briere assisted on Dale Weise's OT winner keeping Briere over the point-per-game mark in the playoffs, he has 110 points in 109 career playoff games.

In Game 1, Steven Stamkos did what Steven Stamkos does best, score goals. The 24-year old potted a pair of goals for Tampa, including one of an a play that started with Stamkos collecting the puck behind his own net and charging down the ice to create the opportunity. Alex Killorn picked up a goal and an assist in his NHL Playoffs debut.

What's at Stake:

The Canadiens looked dominant in Game 1 but still gave the Lightning ample opportunity to steal a victory. If the Habs can maintain their dominance through Game 2 and return to Montreal with a 2-0 series lead, the Bolts will be hard pressed to come back.

Who's Out:

Travis Moen (concussion) is close to a return but won't be back for Game 2. Alex Galchenyuk (knee) has been ruled out for the opening round.

The Lightning are still without Ben Bishop (elbow) who could return to action late in the series but will miss the next few starts. Ondrej Palat (upper body) left Wednesday's game in the third period and will be a game time decision on Friday. Ryan Malone has been de facto suspended after being charged with a DUI and cocaine possession. Any future discipline will be determined based on the terms of the NHL's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program.

What Else:

The Canadiens' power play woes continued on Wednesday, they haven't scored with the man advantage since Daniel Briere potted a late power play marker against the Buffalo Sabres on March 25, 10 games ago. While Brian Gionta did score on a penalty shot in Montreal's last game of the season, the Habs have gone 0-for-26 on the power play in their last 9 games.

Thankfully, as bad as they've been with the man advantage, they've been just the opposite killing penalties. The Canadiens finished the season fourth overall on the penalty kill and opened up the Playoffs by holding the Bolts 0-for-2 on the power play and even scored a shorthanded goal in the process.

The Question Mark:

After some unlikely heroics from Dale Weise, who do you think scores the winner in Game 2?

Let us know what you think, leave us a comment or send us a tweet with the #MTLHockey hashtag on Twitter.

Be sure to tune into the Montreal Hockey Talk Pregame Show an hour before the puck drop and the Post Game Show 5 minutes after the final siren. Join the live conversation by using the #MTLHockey hashtag on Twitter.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Playoff Preview: Canadiens at Lightning (Round 1, Game 1)

HabsBolts_Playoffs 
Match Up:

The Canadiens are in Tampa Bay Wednesday night to take on the Lightning in the first game of Round One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Game starts at 7:00 and airs on RDS and CBC.

The Habs and Bolts faced off 4 times during the regular season. The first 3 meetings went beyond regulation and the Lightning led the fourth game by just one goal until a late empty-netter put that match away for good. In the end, the Canadiens managed just a single win against the Lightning during the regular season, a 2-1 shootout victory in Tampa.

What to Watch:

The Canadiens will depend on Carey Price to keep up his stellar play in the post-season. Price, team MVP for a fourth consecutive year, finished the season with a career best .927 save percentage and 2.32 goals against average, boosted by a 41-save shutout to end the season.

The Habs will also look to leading scorer Max Pacioretty to keep up his production. The sniper fell short of the 40-goal mark this season, but with 39 goals, Pacioretty finished fourth in the league in that department.

The Lightning will start the playoffs without their starting goalie. Ben Bishop is out with an elbow injury, meaning the Bolts will need to rely on backup, Anders Lindback to get the job done. The good news for Tampa is that Lindback was named the NHL's First Star in the last week of the season, he posted a 3-0-0 record, a 0.67 goals against average and a .975 save percentage.

What's at Stake:

The Lightning edged out the Canadiens by just 1 point to earn home ice advantage in the first round, but the Canadiens can swing the advantage back with a win on the road. During last year's playoffs, the teams that won Game 1 in the opening round won just 5 of the 8 series', but beyond the first round, every team that won the series opener went on to take their series.

Who's Out:

The Habs will be without Alex Galchenyuk (knee) for the first round, Brandon Prust (upper body) is day-to-day, as is Travis Moen (concussion).

Ben Bishop (elbow) won't be playing Wednesday, there's no word yet when he may be ready to return. Ondrej Palat (upper body) and Valtteri Filppula (lower body) are day-to-day.

What Else:

This is just the second time the Habs and Lightning are meeting in the postseason, their first meeting came in the second round of the 2004 playoffs while the Lightning were en route to the franchise's first and only Stanley Cup win. The Canadiens have yet to beat the Lightning in a playoff game, they were swept the first time around and managed just 4 goals in four games.

The Question Mark:

We want to hear from you, what are the Habs' keys to victory in order to eliminate the Lightning?

Let us know what you think, leave us a comment or send us a tweet with the #MTLHockey hashtag on Twitter.

Be sure to tune into the Montreal Hockey Talk Pregame Show an hour before the puck drop and the Post Game Show 5 minutes after the final siren. Join the live conversation by using the #MTLHockey hashtag on Twitter.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Round One: Western Picks

The Western Conference has been exceptionally good this season. California teams have dominated, and every team was nervous going into their California road trips. Chicago has shown no signs of having a Stanley Cup hangover. Colorado has had a huge turnaround season under Patrick Roy. St. Louis, Minnesota, and Dallas all had exceptional years. So there is no wonder why the West holds several favourites for the Cup this year. It could literally go anywhere.

WEST Match-ups

Anaheim VS. Dallas
Anaheim finished the season with 114 points, second in the race for the Presidents Trophy. They have had stellar goaltending, and their offense has been nothing short of excellent with 266 goals for on the season. They have proven to be a dominating force, and will continue this image through the playoffs.

Dallas squeaked into the playoffs with 91 points (one of two western teams under 100), the lowest of all teams in the playoffs. I don’t think they are a true competitor or threat for the cup this season, especially considering who they have to get through. 

I am taking Anaheim in five. They are just all-around a better team, and I don’t see Dallas being a threat to them this season. But, Dallas has potential in the upcoming years.

San Jose VS. Los Angeles
Both of teams are truly superb. It’s a shame they play in the first round as it would certainly be an entertaining conference final. They both have the talent and the ability to make a deep run, but in this scenario only one will prevail. Both have the depth, elite calibre goaltending, speed, scoring, and defense to be cup contenders. 

On gut feeling I am taking San Jose in seven, because I can’t logically pick one or the other based on statistics/line-up. This could go either way. Watch this series for probably some of the best hockey these playoffs have to offer.

Colorado VS. Minnesota
Colorado has had a huge year when looking at where they were last year. With Patrick Roy (my Jack Adams nominee, hands down) at the helm, this team is as determined as ever, and are confident this is their year. They have everything it takes to win a cup.

Minnesota is the second western team to make the playoffs under 100 points. They have a good line-up, and their goaltending has been playing well. With guys like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, it’s hard to argue that they don’t deserve to move on. They are a good team, but Colorado is simply better.

I am taking Colorado in six. They have a good team, and a great coach. They are convinced that they have what it takes, and this confidence will help carry them to the next level.

St. Louis VS. Chicago
St. Louis has a good team, and managed to bring in a great goaltender in Ryan Miller to prepare for the playoffs. They believe they have a team capable of winning a cup. Top-end talent such as TJ Oshie, and Alex Pietrangelo can carry a team very far. They are certainly going to give the defending champs a run for their money.

Chicago has not slowed down at all coming off of their Stanley Cup championship one year ago.  They have continued their winning ways this season and proved they are ready to take it again. They are looking to continue their trend by winning a third cup in a span of four years which is quite remarkable.

I am taking Chicago in seven. St. Louis will leave everything on the ice and this one will go right down to the wire. Chicago will ultimately take it as they have the experience and knowledge on what it takes to win a cup in today’s NHL.

Summary
The West is just as wide open as the East in the sense that there are so many elite hockey teams in this bunch. Any team that is determined enough, and showcases their talent can go all the way this year. There are some excellent match-ups on this side of the league, so get ready for some great hockey, and some surprises en route to a Stanley cup final.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to give your input below.

Follow me @darrinharmy

Round One: Eastern Picks

The playoffs are right around the corner, and there are sure to be some pretty great series to watch. The first round match-ups will see some pretty great teams take an early exit in a battle to the finish. The west has been arguably the better of the two conferences throughout the regular season, but at this point, that goes out the window. It’s all about who can win 16 high pressure games.

The Boston Bruins being the Presidents Trophy winner with 117 points is the odds on favourite to go all the way this year. The western conference however boasts six (yes, SIX) teams finishing the regular season with 100 points or more. That includes Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles, Colorado, St. Louis, and Chicago. The east only has four with Montreal and Tampa Bay just squeaking in with 100 and 101 respectively, Pittsburgh has a solid 108, and then Boston at 117. Looking at this and this alone, clearly the ice is tilted toward the Western teams in the amount of contenders they have.

After looking at a number stats and comparing them to the biggest factor, my gut feeling, I’m going to do my best to predict how these playoffs are going to go, and who will be drinking from Lord Stanley’s cup.

­EAST Matchups

Boston VS. Detroit
This match-up will be an interesting one. The Boston Bruins have been a dominating force all season with an ability to run through all four lines and get offense. They have a good combination of scoring talent and grit, and are backstopped by one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. They have a mix of young guys, and veterans with lots of playoff experience. They don’t necessarily have a glaring weakness that any team can truly exploit.

Detroit has been battling through injuries to key players all season long, and have still managed to put up wins. They had an astonishing man-games-lost ranking at 417. Not only did they lose players, but they lost key players in their line-up. They managed to get wins by leaning on young guys like Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist. Now that they have some players back, they could be a tough opponent against the rough Boston Bruins.

I am going to take the Bruins in six. They have the advantage in goaltending and I think they are going to overwhelm and smother Detroit.

Tampa Bay VS. Montreal
Tampa Bay is a team that made the playoffs when nobody expected they would. Normally, they are a solid team, with Stamkos leading the team to victories, but when the now team captain was injured, and injured badly everybody thought they were done for. The Lightning had some young players step up their game, and Ben Bishop continued to make the big saves and help win games.  Montreal and Tampa Bay have been neck and neck the whole way down the stretch battling for home ice advantage, with Tampa Bay edging out the Habs by one point in the final game of the season. Every game has been tight, having three of four go into extra time. Montreal has the advantage in net, but both teams are relatively even in scoring power, and defence with a slight edge to the Bolts. This series will be all about who wants it more, and which goalie steals games. 

I am taking Montreal in seven. They are coming into these playoffs with confidence and a solid line-up all around. Get ready for a great series of hockey.

Pittsburgh VS. Columbus
Pittsburgh has been badly beaten up over the course of the year leading the league by a crazy margin in man-games-lost at 527. They lost guys like Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. They finished second in the east despite the setbacks, and played as though they were a full roster.  Sidney Crosby is obviously a huge piece for Pittsburgh and could carry his team, but if Marc-Andre Fleury plays anything like he did last playoffs, don’t expect the Penguins to go very far.
Columbus has an excellent goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky, and what I would consider an average line-up. What they lack in super star players they certainly make up for in depth. Almost everyone in the line-up has the ability to chip in offensively.

I am taking Pittsburgh in six. Pittsburgh can match Columbus in depth, but they have more high-end talent and game changers. If Fleury is on point, and can make some big saves like he can in the regular season, Pittsburgh shouldn’t have to many problems winning the series.

New York VS. Philadelphia
New York has solid talent in their top six, and some pretty good depth. They have extremely good goaltending in “King” Henrik Lundquist. He can make huge saves, and is good in high pressure situations. If Martin St.Louis can get his scoring touch going again, New York can definitely do well against Philadelphia.

Philly has a good mix in their line-up. Their goaltending has done well this year with Steve Mason on the back. My concern for Philly is that the Rangers will be able to exploit them, and Philly simply won’t be able to beat Lundquist. I don’t see Philadelphia being a real threat to the Rangers.

I am taking New York in five. New York has better scoring and goaltending. They will just take over Philly and swiftly kick them out.

Summary
These are my picks for the first round in the East. Some of these series' will certainly have some surprises and some upsets, but that is what is so great about the playoffs. You never know what player will step-up his game, and what team will completely collapse. Now, all that matters is winning four of seven.

Thank you for reading! I will have my Western playoff preview up later on today.

Be sure to follow @darrinharmy