With only 21 games remaining in the regular season the Montreal Canadiens find themselves in the final playoff position and 5 points out of 6th place in the Eastern Conference.
Teams such as Atlanta, Toronto, and to a lesser extent the Boston Bruins and NY Islanders are all trying to make up ground as quickly as possible, but they are not in a position of power to do so. This pressure and responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the Canadiens.
Some would argue that the Thrashers are in the best position being the closest in points to the Canadiens [3 points behind] for the final berth, but an argument can be made for the Leafs who have a back to back games with the Habs later in the month offering up a huge 4 point gain for the victor of both. The Leafs basically have a one time shot to control their own fate and stay in the hunt or lose both games and be virtually eliminated from post season contention.
The afore mentioned teams not only have to wait and hope for the last 20 plus games that the Habs will self destruct and cost themselves a playoff berth, but they have to win as well. Fortunately for the Canadiens they control their own fate and those of the teams chasing them. This position of power has been a rare happening for the Habs over the last few seasons, and one that will put the entire team under a ton of pressure as well as under a microscope.
To complicate matters more there is only 24 hours left before the trade deadline and as of yet only one team [Edmonton] has made a trade of any kind. This can adversely affect the players in one of two ways. One way is waiting to see if they will be traded which is stressful on the players, and the other way is waiting to see if team management will deal for help in needed areas making the team that much stronger for the playoffs and the future.
The second way is more of a boost in confidence to the players by the management staff showing faith in the team, as well as being willing to aid in their goal for a long playoff run. Some times just a minor move can be enough to help the players get a jump to their step, as Gainey did in the past with a not so minor move acquiring Kovalev and Dowd just before the deadline in the last NHL season. This new motivation cost the Bruins to be dumped in the first round yet again by the upstart lower seeded Habs. The same could be accomplished this season, but we will have to wait to see.
I have a method that I find to be the easiest way to guess how many points you would need to make the playoffs. This is done about the ¾ mark of the season [approx 20 games to go]. You take your division leaders point totals [unless it is an exceptional season ala the ‘76 Canadiens] with 20 games left and that number should be close to the required points to make the postseason. In this case it is around 88 to 90 points. If this method is true the Canadiens would have to play slightly better then .500 for the duration of the season winning around 11 or 12 of their last 21 games.
This is not an exact science no doubt but it is a guideline of sorts and usually a fairly accurate one. This feat is not unattainable for the Habs and actually should be expected for any playoff bound team.
The same question remains for the Habs though; will they be in control of their own destiny, or will they buckle under the pressure and relinquish their position of power?