“The game of hockey isn’t played on paper; it’s played on ice.”
It feels kind of strange quoting myself, but that was my message to the underdog team that I coached this year before game 1 of a best of 3 final versus the league powerhouse. This message also perfectly describes Montreal’s playoff run last year, and could apply this year as well. Boston is better than Montreal, on paper. They score more goals, they give up fewer goals, they hit harder, they won more games etc. etc.
The strange thing is that the closer this series gets, the more I feel like Montreal has a legitimate chance to beat Boston. When you break it down, there are 5 major factors that help explain why Montreal could upset the big, bad Bruins.
5 – Experience
It’s a simple reason with no tangible benefit, but its important when it comes to the playoffs. The teams and players that have been through the playoff grind before are generally better prepared to win in the postseason. The Habs’ projected starting lineup has played in 791 playoff games, compared to the 683 played by the Bruins’ players. The Canadiens also have 5 players with Stanley Cup Rings (Gomez, Gionta, Moen, Sopel, Gill) compared to Boston’s 2 (Recchi, Thornton). That has to count for something.
4 – Breaking down Boston’s D
Montreal’s coach Jacques Martin seems to have adopted a philosophy of throwing out 3 lines that can produce offense, sometimes even 4. The way you defend against that kind of attack is to have good depth on defense, rather than having an elite shutdown pair and some lower end guys filling out the 3-6 spots. Other than Chara, there are no top end defensive defensemen in the Bruins lineup. The Habs’ should be able to take advantage of that.
3 – Stopping the Bruin’s forwards
On the flip side of breaking down Boston’s D, there is a similar matchup advantage when it comes to Montreal’s D vs. Boston’s forwards. The Bruins have a lot of good forwards, but they don’t have anyone exceptional. A team like Boston would prefer to attack against a team like Buffalo or New York who have top end guys (Staal, Myers) but they can wear down the rest of the defensive corps. Montreal has tremendous depth on the blue line, which is exactly what you need to go up against Boston’s deep group of forwards.
2/1 – Special Teams & Goaltending
The 2 factors that end up having a significant role in every single game are special teams and goaltending. If I told you right now that the Habs would have a better powerplay than Boston and that Carey Price will be better than Tim Thomas, I’ll bet you would say that Montreal will either win the series or will have a great chance to do so. The Canadiens had a better PP and better PK than Boston during the regular season, giving Montreal the special teams advantage going in; and even though Tim Thomas had a better statistical year than Carey Price, I like Price’s ability to steal games, and I like his history of winning (World Juniors, Calder Cup) over the course of his career.
Last year I predicted Montreal would lose in round 1, they won.
I figured they would lose in round 2, they won.
Then I thought for sure they would win in round 3, they lost.
Its probably better that I refrain from making a prediction, but what the hell – Habs in 7.
About the Author
Written by Corey Krakower
I am the Director of NHL Content & Habs writer for ProSportsBlogging.com; I have spent 8 seasons behind the bench as a minor hockey coach; and I am the future GM of the Montreal Canadiens (according to my mom). I spend my days managing the Harrow Sports brand in my hometown of Montreal and I moonlight as a Hockey Advisor for Pi Athlete Management. Most importantly, I'll throw anyone under the bus for a laugh.