Three games left. Two points needed. One exciting match to begin the last week of the regular season that could decide it!
This time of the year can be bittersweet for me.
There is a great anticipation for the upcoming playoffs – something that only 16 cities across North America get to experience. Something that the fans in the great city of Montreal often take for granted.
But there’s also this sadness inside, because I know that hockey is slowly coming to an end, and once again I will find myself asking that question:
“Is it October Yet?”
But the next five days leave no room for those thoughts. Tonight begins the finale to a fantastic and wonderful regular season from our beloved Habs.
Last year, Les Boys took us right to the final game of the season v. the Toronto Maple Leafs before securing their place in the Stanley Cup playoff run. Three weeks ago, if you had told me that I’d be closing in on the same timetable to secure a playoff spot for this post-season, I would have called the thought ubsurd.
But the recent slide has left Canadiens fans wondering which team will show up to play on any given night. Hence, Habs nation will be glued to the edge of their seats this week until le Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge acquire the two points necessary to launch the team into the spring contest for sports most beloved prize.
Over the past two weeks, we’ve been looking in depth at the match-ups, and the Habs chances of earning those pivotal points to get them into the playoff race. This week is no exception.
- The Chicago Blackhawks: The last home game of the regular season and the defending Stanley Cup Champs make their way into le Centre Bell. And what a difference a year can make. A mere 12 months ago, the Hawks were cruising into the playoffs on top of the Western Conference with 105 points. They would finish their last 4 games with 3 victories and an OT point (finishing with 112 points – tucked in nicely behind the 121 point President Trophy winning Washington Capitals). They were Western Conference shoe-ins for the Stanley Cup. Fast forward a year, and the Hawks find themselves on the brink of being the first Stanley Cup Championship team to miss the playoffs in their following season, since the Carolina Hurricanes in 2007. Missing from the line-up is the powerful scoring presence of Patrick Sharp (Knee). Patrick Kane has stepped up in his absence though, and has 4 points in as many games. With the Dallas Stars charging hard behind them, and a tough schedule seeing them face the Blues, and then home and home games against the Red Wings, you can be sure that the the Blackhawks will come out with ferocity from the get-go tonight.
- The Ottawa Senators: Although Tuesday marks the last official home game for the Canadiens, skating on the ice at Scotia Bank Place can easily be considered a home game away from home. This will be Montreal’s easiest test of the week. If you’ve ever attended a game in Ottawa, you know that there are as many Habs fans present as Senator fans, which generally makes for a great non-hostile environment for Martin’s crew. Ottawa has been battling it out for the basement position in the Eastern Conference, and have posted a 5-4-1 record over their last 10 games. If the Habs don’t manage to get it done at home against the Hawks on Tuesday night, there should be no issue in posting the two points here on Thursday. The only threat will be a red hot Jason Spezza who’s managed 7 goals and 11 assists in the last 15 games. But with Daniel Alfredsson out (lower back), along with defensemen Erik Karlsson (lacerated thigh), and Sergei Gonchar (concussion), the depleted Sens will have a tough time with a hungry Canadiens franchise.
- The Toronto Maple Leafs: I don’t know why the league feels it necessary to have this as a season ending game every year; but as usual, the Canadiens will travel to the Air Canada Center to face the Leafs for game number 82. The season series has been good to the Habs. They’ve won 3 of 5, two of those being shutout victories, and scored 13 goals over those matches. But the true great Canadian rivalry – the oldest in the NHL – brings out the best in both teams and is often unpredictable. The Leafs have found a hot netminder in James Reimer, and we all know how much the Leaf’s love to spoil the dance when it comes to their French Canadian foes.
So what’s going to be required of the Canadiens to get the job done? Bottom line is this – they need to get their two points as early in the week as possible.
If they can step onto the ice tonight with the mentality that they belong victorious over the Blackhawks, and that they can be a spoiler against the defending champions – tonight can be the night. They will need to accomplish the same things they did against the New Jersey Devils this past Saturday as well.
Clutter the neutral zone, maintain puck possession, move the puck with efficient and quick passes, and get to the front of the net. Utilize the few bodies with size that they have. Get Kostitsyn screening, have Darche crashing the net (boy it’s good to have him back). Keep the pressure on and get the early lead. If they do that, Carey Price will respond with the rest.
As aggravating as it is to not have clinched yet, we’re in for a great week of hockey. One that will no doubt leave us screaming, breathless, and once again – (sitting soundly in 6th) heading into the post season.
Round one against the Boston Bruins begins April 13th!