The Montreal Canadiens will be taking on the New York Rangers tonight in game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The two teams will be facing off at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
If there is one thing that I can ensure about tonight’s game, it is that the Bell Centre will be absolutely buzzing tonight. Not only has it been nearly two years since fans were able to watch a playoff game in their own barn, but fan favorite national anthem singers Ginette Reno and Sara Diamond will be sure to get the home crowd up on their feet and riled up early on in the night.
Head to Head
In this year’s regular season, The Montreal Canadiens topped the Atlantic division with 103 points, gaining home ice advantage for at least the 1st two rounds of the playoffs. Although the New York Rangers were not far off in points from the Habs finishing with 1 less point, they had to settle for the 1st wildcard spot due to a stacked metropolitan division. In addition to finishing the season with a better record than New York, the Habs also swept the season series against the Rangers winning all three games in which the two teams faced off.
As mentioned earlier, the last time these two teams faced off in the playoffs was in the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals. With Carey Price going down with a knee injury after a collision with Chris Kreider in game 1, The Rangers would go on to beat the Habs in 6 games, booking themselves a ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals against the LA Kings. Despite backup goalie Dustin Tokarski’s stellar play for the remainder of the series, many Habs fans were left pondering about what could have been if Carey Price had not gone down so early in the playoffs.
It is no surprise that I have put Price on this list. He should be part of the “Notable Players” section in every single pre-game article during these playoffs, but I will try to only add him during the crucial games.
Montreal’s fate during the playoffs will most likely be determined by how Carey Price plays. If he continues his unbelievable play against the Rangers as of late (11-1-0, 0.93 GAA, .968 Sv%, and 5 SO in last 12), then the Habs should be able to get by the Rangers with little difficulty. If Price does not play like his usual self at any time during this series, the Rangers and their high scoring offense will take full advantage and cruise on into the next round.
Radulov made his return to the NHL this season after leaving to play in the KHL, in his home country of Russia. In his 1st year back, Radulov was one of Montreal’s best players all throughout the season, scoring 18 goals and 36 assists for 54 points in 76 games. What many may not know is that Radulov has been very good during the playoffs in the past. During his three years playing with the Nashville Predators early on in his career, Radulov had 6 goals and 8 assists for 14 points in 18 games (0.78 PPG) throughout the three playoff runs. Although these are already stellar numbers, Radulov’s playoff play was on a whole nother level while playing in the KHL. In 86 KHL playoff games, Radulov put up an unbelievable 83 points (0.97 PPG). If Radulov can continue his great scoring rate during the course of this series, Montreal’s first line could cause real problems for the Rangers.
Speaking of playoff performers, Artturi Lehkonen had one hell of a playoff run last year, winning the SHL championship with Frolunda HC. In addition to taking home the grand prize, Lehkonen was also Frolunda’s leading scorer in the playoffs. Lehkonen had 11 goals and 8 assists for 19 points in 16 playoff games (1.19 PPG!). With these great numbers, Lehkonen broke Daniel Alfredsson‘s Frolunda record for most points in one playoff run, beating Alfredsson’s 04-05 playoff point total by 1 point. If Lehkonen continues his great playoff success that he had with Frolunda, the Habs will be able to counter one of New York’s strongest assets in depth scoring, and things will be looking very promising for Montreal.
Montreal Lineup Notes
-Despite taking a high stick during Tuesday’s practice, Max Pacioretty will be in the lineup tonight.
–Alexei Emelin will not be in the lineup tonight as he is still out with a lower-body injury.
The 1st game of any series is usually one of, if not the biggest game of the series. A win today puts either team in a great position down the road, and also boosts the confidence of the winning team, while lowering the oppositions. Expect both teams both teams to be on top of their games tonight, hoping to get off to a great start.
Puck drop is a 7:00 EST. Go Habs Go!