Following a tough loss on Thursday, the Habs are now on the outside looking in at the postseason. However, there are two teams within striking distance so there’s still a chance for Montreal. Here’s a look at the schedules for the squads still in the hunt.
^ – Opponent is in the first half of a back-to-back
* – Opponent is in the second half of a back-to-back
March 30 vs Philadelphia^
March 31 at Pittsburgh
April 2 at Toronto*
April 4 vs New Jersey
April 6 at Philadelphia
Opponent Points Percentage: .549
Carolina’s back-to-back this weekend isn’t a gimme by any stretch. Technically, the Flyers still have something to play for as they’re not yet mathematically eliminated from the postseason so they should put forth a decent effort (though they’re starting the rusty Cam Talbot). Pittsburgh is still jockeying for seeding so that should be a competitive one as well.
However, their other three games are certainly winnable. Toronto’s back-to-back means Garret Sparks will be in goal which is great news for the Hurricanes. New Jersey has been out of it for ages and the joy of being a spoiler has long passed. While the Flyers have something to play for now, they won’t by the last game. If Carolina is still in a spot where they need a win, they’ll probably get it.
March 30 at Nashville*
March 31 at Buffalo*
April 2 vs Boston
April 5 at NY Rangers
April 6 at Ottawa
Opponent Points Percentage: .518
Four road games may seem intriguing on the surface but Columbus actually has a better points percentage on the road than they do at home. With Nashville playing on Friday, the Blue Jackets will almost assuredly see backup goalie Juuse Saros for that game while Buffalo is, well, Buffalo. Some nights they’re on but for the most part, they struggle. This is a winnable back-to-back set for sure.
The Boston game could be interesting as depending on how the next few games shake out, they may not yet have home-ice advantage secured. The Bruins are in the midst of getting a few injured players back so instead of sitting some players, they’ll be looking to get some chemistry going so this one will be a challenge.
The final two games shape up nicely for Columbus as the Rangers and Senators have nothing to play for aside from getting the game over with and not getting hurt. It’s a back-to-back but given the level of competition, it’s not a terrible situation to be in.
March 30 at Winnipeg
April 2 vs Tampa Bay*
April 4 at Washington
April 6 vs Toronto
Opponent Points Percentage: .668
Well. Talk about a rough stretch to finish the season. All of these teams are contenders but in some circumstances, this could actually work in Montreal’s favour.
This isn’t necessarily the case with the Winnipeg game. They’re still battling with Nashville for the division lead and they’ll have Dustin Byfuglien back in the lineup as well. The Habs did quite well against the Jets earlier this season but Winnipeg is tied for the conference lead in home victories with 25.
The Tampa Bay game could be interesting. On the one hand, they clinched a playoff spot what feels like months ago so there’s nothing really to play for in the standings. However, they’re four wins away from setting a new NHL record for victories in a season which is certainly motivating. That said, they’re on the back half of the back-to-back so Louis Domingue should get the start. He has beaten the Habs in three of four games against them but he’s not Andrei Vasilevskiy so that should help.
The Capitals are still battling for seeding but by Thursday, that could change. If they’re in, they’ll likely give some players some rest. The same can be said for the final game where Toronto will almost assuredly rest some of their better players and play Sparks which will give Montreal a chance.
The Canadiens haven’t fared well against these four opponents this season, posting a 2-4-3 record against them. Between that, the schedules for Carolina and Columbus, and the fact that both teams hold the tiebreakers, the odds of making it don’t appear to be in their favour. However, Montreal will be playing meaningful games into April at the very least. I suspect not many would have thought that would be the case six months ago.