After a much needed break for the Canadiens, the time has finally come for them to get their series with the Vegas Golden Knights under way. This is the team’s first trip to the ‘Conference Finals’ since 2014 when Carey Price was famously taken out of the series by Chris Kreider. The team and fans are both feeling themselves right now and the team is gaining moment at the perfect time.
The Habs enter this series as heavy under dogs yet again, basically being written off by most analysts just like they were in Rounds one and two. Not that this bothers any of the players or fans at this point, who feed off of this disrespect and have developed the Us vs The World mentality. As Habs fans spend the day watching the clock tick down to puck drop, here are 5 things that the team MUST do if they hope to beat Vegas to move on to the Stanley Cup Final.
1. Price has to be the best player in the series
This is a real brain buster I know, but let’s get the obvious out of the way. Carey play in the playoffs is on another level, something that hasn’t surprised even to most pessimistic of fans or the Price haters. If you are surprised, I have to ask what have you been watching to this point? This is what Playoff Price does, he shows up in the biggest moments with his best performances. He has won almost everything there is to win as a goalie in his hockey career, there’s just one thing missing.
His numbers speak for themselves but Price’s presence goes far beyond just stopping the puck. Price has destroyed the confidence of every shooter the Habs have face thus far with any one of the couple dozen effortless glove saves on shots from the slot. Simultaneously he gives his team mates a level of confidence that I would argue no other player in the league can replicate for their team. Price is the team’s quiet and confident leader and his calming demeanor can be felt on the bench, in the stands and through out the entire city.
2. Continue to buy-in à la Jake Evans
For years Habs fans had to listen about how the team need to improve the character in their locker room. Slowly be surely this locker room has taken shape into what it is now, and if ever there was a clear indication of the team buying in, it is embodied by Jake Evans. Maybe it’s just me but there is something indescriable that makes you pull for a guy like Evans who is willing to put his body on the line to make a play for his team.
That is exactly what he did when he secured the win for the Habs in Game 1 before his injury. Not getting into the hit itself, I have felt there was a conversation that was being ignored from Evan’s side of the story. First and foremost let’s stop pretending he didn’t know Scheifele was coming, he did, what people seem to want to overlook is that Evan’s was ready to take a hit to make a play for the team. I just don’t think he nor anyone expect the hit that ensued. In a 1 goal game (no matter how much one team may have dominated), if you have an opportunity to seal the victory with an empty net goal, in the playoffs no less, a winner is going to the net. Even if you’re going to take a hit in the process, you pay the price for the W, that is exactly what Evans did. That’s the commitment you want to see, a guy who is willing to win at all costs. Now please get healthy.
Enough of this “the puck should’ve gone into the corner”. Evans made a play for his team knowing that he was likely to take a hit in the process. The hit was excessive and was dealt with, but enough of this BS narrative for attention. That’s why you’re on the couch and Jake Evans is a Seventh Round pick who is out there living every hockey player’s dream.
3. Danault needs to do Danault things
After all of the debate during the regular season, it is finally official, Danault is one of the team’s most valuable players. His ability to shut down Matthew and Marner was dissected at nauseum by the Leaf’s broadcast networks and he followed this up by completely shutting down the Jets’ top line as well. Unless you ask Mark Sheifele of course but he’s at home on the couch too.
Vegas and Montreal are built similarly up front with a heavy emphasis placed on depth and rolling four lines that come at you shift after shift. The one thing that Vegas has that the Habs lack is elite offensive talent at the top end of this line up. You can argue this statement all you want but Mark Stone is an elite NHL player, who may be better known for his two-way game but he is still a premium offensive talent nonetheless. Stone is also the heartbeat of the Vegas line up and if Danault can not only keep him off the scoresheet, but keep him quiet in the series overall it will give the Habs a much better chance to win.
4. Caufield must keep shooting!
Despite not having a playoff goal yet, Caufield has been one of the Habs most dangerous players with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone. Every time he has the puck it feels like something special happens, and despite his limited time in the NHL, opposing team’s are quickly adjusting how they defend against Caufield. Opposing goalies and defenders are already respecting the shot, and just like he was able to do at Wisconsin, this respect for the shot from opposing players is creating space for his line mates.
Case and point, Hellebuyck didn’t play pass here for even a second.
Of course the intelligence of Toffoli should not be discredited either as he perfectly slipped into the soft spot unnoticed before burying the Caufield pass. Toffoli-Suzuki-Caufield have been the clear offensive catalysts for this team and they will need to step their game up to another gear if the Habs hope to have a chance at playing for Lord Stanley’s Cup. If Caufield continues to shoot at the same frequency as he did against Winnipeg he will eventually score while also helping to create offense for Toffoli and Suzuki.
5. Byron-KK-Andersen Line Needs to Step Up
This is not to say that they have been bad in any way, but the Habs will need secondary scoring if they hope to beat the Golden Knights. VEgas has two lines that can score on any given night and then toss in guys like Tuch and Janmark just for fun. All of this and we haven’t even touched on their guys on the blue line.
This line has been good, but they just haven’t gotten the production to validate their play of late. KK has been able to score timely goals and he is tied for the team lead in goals (despite missing a couple games), but Byron and Anderson have been quiet since each scoring a goal in the first game of the playoffs against Toronto. While the game is more than just scoring, and in this regard both Byron and Andersen have been good, playing solid hockey and neither takes a shift off. However, the team is at a point where the small moral victories don’t exist anymore, these guys need to start producing and they are more than capable of doing so.
The final key to the Habs victory is that Habs fans MUST match the Vegas fans intensity. This may be difficult considering Vegas’ arena is at full capacity (or close to) while the Habs are only at 2500, at least for now. This doesn’t matter because the vibe in the city is prime playoff hockey and this can be felt in and outside of the arena. In a year where fans (from all fanbases really) needed something to lift their spirits, the Habs have provided the city with something to believe in. No one outside of Montreal can understand how a Coldplay song can get fans so amped up, but it could not be more fitting than it is now. As you prepare to enjoy today’s game, sit back grab your favorite beverage and take it all in. The Habs are here to Fix You.
C’EST MONTRÉAL CONTRE LE MONDE!
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