Some will look back on this series and say that the Montreal Canadiens were lucky to get out of it victorious. They will back that up by saying that the Habs had trouble scoring throughout the series and that they are only moving on because of their goaltender. Further, they will say that if Andrew Hammond would have been replaced by Craig Anderson before the second game of the series that Montreal would not have won that game and gained their 3-0 lead in the series. While this might be somewhat true, I think that the better team did win and I am not saying that because I am a Habs’ fan.
Montreal as a team is what General Manager Marc Bergevin set them up to be and coach Michel Therrien has them playing. We shouldn’t expect them to be any different from the team that during the regular season played in a lot of tight one goal games and for the most part came out on the winning side. They are never going to a run and gun side. Because of the system they play and the level of talent; they just don’t have the goal scorers to make that style a successful one here. Despite that they outshot the Ottawa side in 4 of the 6 games they played, so you cannot criticize their offensive effort. They did not rely on their goaltender like Ottawa did except for game 6. All that being said from top to bottom Montreal is the more experienced, healthy and skilled side.
It was collar tightening time for Montreal and its fans as the team shot out to a 3-0 lead against Ottawa then lost their last two games to make it 3-2 with game 6 being played in Ottawa. Once again like they did over the last two months of the season, the Senators have shown that they are a team that never gives up. This was never going to be an easy series for either side. Despite the fact that Montreal was up 3-2 in the series they had only been ahead on the scoreboard for 43 minutes overall. Tight!
Therrien attempted to address the lack of scoring and production on the power play by reinserting winger P.A. Parenteau, after missing the last 4 games, back into the line-up. Brian Flynn would be the odd man out. No changes were made by Ottawa coach Dave Cameron, whose side won the last game.
Some silly people were claiming that Craig Anderson was outplaying Vezina Trophy nominee Carey Price in the series. Silly! Yes, Anderson was playing very well and Price had let in 5 goals in the last game, but you knew the man who is generally considered the best goalie in the world right now was not going be beaten for that many goal two games in a row. In the 5-1 loss the previous game it was only the 4th time this season that Carey Price had given up 5 goals. Unfortunately, it happened twice against the Senators. In the end, if you had been following his play this year you knew that he was going to bounce back and his coach was quoted as saying he knew that his goalie was going to be the best player in the 6th game. His feeling was not wrong in that Price was tested often, but as is often the case managed to deny the Senators time and time again. Price was the difference in this Canadiens’ victory.
For five straight goals in this playoff series the Senators have scored the first goal. Montreal managed to come back to win three times, but it does place heaps of pressure on them in what they know will mostly be low scoring and tight games. Scoring first would have to have been a priority you would think. The Habs did not help themselves out by getting two early penalties giving Ottawa momentum. Montreal killed off the Andrei Markov and Torrey Mitchell penalties then proceeded to score the game’s first goal, which turned out to be the game winner.
Brendan Gallagher has through his three seasons with the Canadiens demonstrated himself to be a player with a big heart who never backs down. Despite his smaller stature he always plants himself in front of the opposing goaltender, causing trouble and accepting the abuse that goes along with being in that location. It was exactly there that he positioned himself yet again as Tomas Plekanec played the puck back to defenseman Greg Pateryn. Pateryn one timed a slapshot that ended up hitting Gallagher as he stood in the slot. While the puck hung in the air Gallagher showed his skill by wheeling around and batting the puck out of the air and into the empty side of the Senators’ net. Anderson had no chance on the play and afterwards could be seen looking up at the big screen to see exactly what had happened. Montreal had finally scored the first goal of the game. 1-0 Montreal.
That goal by Gallagher stood up until literally the last second of the game. It was not due to lack of effort by either side, though. Montreal had several chances to double their lead throughout the rest of the game. None was better than the shorthanded chance that Plekanec had late in the 2nd. Max Pacioretty feathered a pass over from the left hand boards to Plekanec, who was all alone in front of Anderson. He lifted a backhand shot over the net, however. Parenteau and Brandon Prust also had good chances.
Ottawa bombarded Price with 43 shots over the course of the 60 minutes and he was equal to the test. The Canadiens’ goalie made several sparkling saves including one off of Kyle Turris in which he had to go quickly from side to side and several over the last minute of play in which the Senators enjoyed a 6 on 4 advantage as Jacob De La Rose sat in the penalty box and they pulled Anderson. During that flurry Max Pacioretty, who did not go 4 games all season without scoring, grabbed a loose puck on the left side boards and launched it the length of the ice dead centre into the empty net with just 0.3 seconds remaining in the game.
Though he did not get a star, Lars Eller did merit one. As he did last season, Eller is demonstrating himself to be a playoff beast. In the faceoff circle the centre had an amazing 86% win percentage. No matter who were his wingers (as they changed several times during the game) were his line was the most dangerous. He was using his body effectively as a shield allowing him to hold onto the puck for long stretches which allows Eller to get off a shot (he almost had a goal in the 2nd period, but his short side shot which beat Anderson hit the post) or his linemates to get open for a pass.
Montreal would be moving on to the 2nd round for the second season in a row. The time off, as Detroit and Tampa finish their series, should be welcomed by several players. Game 3 hero Dale Weise seems to have an injury as his lack of participating in the game day skate before game 6 and long periods throughout the game in which he did not see the ice. Veteran defenseman Andrei Markov looked slow and tired throughout the series. I have never seen the talented Russian make as many mistakes as he did in this series. He logged big minutes this season playing in all but one of the Habs’ games, so I think he deserves a break. Gallagher absorbed many crosschecks in the back and gloves in the face, so you would have to think he is sore. The time off might also allow defenseman Nathan Beaulieu to recover enough from his upper body injury to be back for the second round.
Next up for Montreal is the winner of the Detroit-Tampa series. Underdog Detroit is leading 3-2 and you would have to think that Montreal would prefer to meet anyone but Tampa.
-Goals: 1st Period:
13:26: Montreal – Brendan Gallagher assisted by Greg Pateryn and Tomas Plekanec
19:59: Montreal – (en) Max Pacioretty assisted by P.K. Subban
-Shots on Goal: Montreal – 20
Ottawa – 43
-3 Stars: 1) Carey Price
2) Jean-Gabriel Pageau
3) Brendan Gallagher
-Final Score: Montreal – 2
Ottawa – 0