First, by the 60th game of the season there are maybe three or four teams that are really comfortable with their position in the standings, the rest are in a struggle simply to make it to the postseason party. At the same time, beginning right after the trade deadline, teams start to gear up for playoff style hockey.
Put a matchup together that has one team making a desperate push to earn a wild card playoff berth together with a team that is boning up on the little things that lead to playoff success and you get a terrific game like the Canadiens 2-1win at Tampa Saturday night.
In the playoffs goaltending is king. By the end of the night it’s hard to say who was the better, carey Price or Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy had more work, especially in the second period, so maybe we give the edge to him despite the fact that he was on the losing end. Price meanwhile is playoff ready. It’s been a common theme since late February. Price gives up one goal and the Canadiens win the game. In his last 13 starts Price has allowed more than one goal only four times giving him a 1.45GAA and .946 save percentage while piling up an 11-2-0 record. Price can get much of the credit for that but, under Claude Julien, the play in front of him has a much different look to it than it had in January and February.
COMING AROUND –
Although they didn’t show up on the scoresheet, the Canadiens best line was again Tomas Plekanec/Paul Byron/Brendan Gallagher and that’s a great sign heading to the post season. We’ve been waiting all season for Gallagher and Plekanec get it together. Gallagher’s troubles could be connected to injuries. Plekanec’s struggle was inexplicable except, as has been so often the case during his career, Plekanec could never seem to play with the same wingers for longer than a week or two. Two weeks ago Julien put him together with Byron and Gallagher and we have what seems to be a perfect fit. The line registered nine of the Canadiens 36 shots in this game. Plekanec, along with his five shots also won 11 of 17 faceoffs. As a line they have nine goals over the eight games.
For more than two months, if Max Pacioretty didn’t score, the Canadiens didn’t win. The success of the Plekanec line has taken some of the pressure off the team captain. Not that he’s taken time off. Pacioretty had points on both goals and linemates Phillip Danault and Alexander Radulov scored. After a brief slump the top line has contributed over the last four games with Pacioretty”s 2 goals and four points leading the way. He now has 66 points on the season, one away from the career high he set two seasons ago.
We are destined to see Alex Galchenyuk as a winger on the Canadiens third line in the final week of the season and barring injuries, well into the playoffs. Galchenyuk just can’t find any kind of pace to his game. Andrew Shaw hit the crossbar in the third period thanks to a play that was started by Galchenyuk’s terrific pass to Artturi Lehkonen. Other than that, we didn’t see much. In the 14 games since the beginning of March Galchenyuk has one goal and is minus-4. Julien has a week to try to get his game straightened out.
THE BOTTOM END –
Torrey Mitchell was sick, so Mike McCarron was back in the lineup between Dwight King and Andreas Martinsen. It’s an impressive looking group with Martinsen the little guy at 6’3” and 237 pounds. They effectively used their size but on a team based on it’s speed, King looks really out of place. His experience counts for something but his speed deficit is a liability. By the way, off a six game body of work with the Canadiens, Martinsen looks like a keeper.
MOVING ON –
The win gave the Canadiens 99 points with four games remaining. Through their 14-5-1 surge under Claude Julien they have established themselves as a playoff threat. They have moved a point ahead of the slumping Rangers into fourth place in the Eastern Conference and fifth place in the overall league standings. They’ll play at Florida on Monday night, in Buffalo on Wednesday before coming home to play Tampa again on Friday. The season ends in Detroit on Saturday.