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We have moved the clocks ahead, the sun is out longer and, for some of us, we even hear the occasional chirping of birds. For most, this all signals the arrival of spring and warmer weather, ice being but a distant memory. For hockey fans, it means the most exciting time of the year, the playoffs, are close at hand. Slowly but surely, Habs fans will turn their attention toward potential adversaries and debate which one most favours our beloved Canadiens. If such discussion is indeed inevitable, then why not be proactive? Around The Boards wants to know what matchup you want to see in the first round. In this, the first of two parts, we quickly profile Montreal’s four most likely first round opponents. Next week, we will feature some of the best responses from our forum members.
Philadelphia: Clearly, this matchup is the one that will strike the most fear in the hearts of Canadiens fans. The Flyers own a clear edge over Le Tricolore in most departments, with the notable exception of goaltending and the man advantage. On top of that, the Flyers won the season series 3-1 this year and have eliminated the Habs in two of the past three playoffs. If the Canadiens are to have any hope of upsetting the Broad Street Bullies, they will have to lean heavily on both Carey Price and their special teams. But, even at that, it may prove too difficult for the shorthanded Habs to contain the depth of a team that features the likes of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux, Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen.
Key Stats: Goals for: 3rd in NHL – Goals against: 11th in NHL - PP: 19th in NHL - PK: 7th in NHL
Washington: Should Montreal land the Capitals in the first round, expect the squad from D.C to be aching for revenge after last spring’s failure. But, make no mistake, this is not the same run-and-gun team as before. The fact the Caps rank in the top 10 in goals against, shots against and penalty killing serve as ample proof of that. As for those who care to point out that Backstrom, Ovechkin and Semin are underwhelming in the post-season, it is worth noting that they all average near or above a point per game in the playoffs.
Key Stats Goals for: 20th in NHL – Goals against: 3rd in NHL - PP: 18th in NHL - PK: 4th in the NHL
Boston: Raise your hands if you want the Bruins in the first round. Thought so. Given the already intense rivalry between the two storied franchises and the events of this season, this will likely be the preferred first round opponent of many Canadiens fans. And, frankly, who can blame them? Montreal has largely dominated Boston both in recent history and this year. Add to that Thomas’ abysmal stats versus the Canadiens, a 4.28 GAA and .888 save percentage in three contests this year, and the matchup seems to tilt in Montreal’s favour.
Key Stats Goals for: 5th in NHL– Goals against: 4th in NHL - PP: 21st in NHL - PK: 17th in NHL
Pittsburgh: On the topic of goaltenders who have struggled versus Montreal, we could certainly add Marc-André Fleury to that list. The Sorel native has a propensity to give up rather deflating goals versus his home town team and has a poor .869 save percentage versus the Canadiens this season. In addition, with Malkin, Cooke and possibly Crosby out for the first round, the Pens are definitely wounded prey, much like the Habs.
Key Stats Goals for: 9th in NHL – Goals against: 7th in NHL - PP: 23rd in NHL - PK: 3rd in the NHL
So, the question now is, amongst the above four teams, who do you want to see Montreal play in the first round? Don’t forget to go on our forums and next week your answers might be profiled right here.
That wraps up this week’s ATB. Until next time, see you on the boards.
Louis Moustakas can be reached for comments, questions, cross-checks and, of course, fan-mail at [email protected]
- ATB: What first round matchup do you want to see?