The Montreal Canadiens have new life after salvaging a 2-1 win over the team directly below them in the standings, but they’re not out of the Calgary Flames-ravaged woods yet.
To summarize, despite their 2-1 defeat on Monday, the Flames continued their season-long relative dominance over the Canadiens, finishing off their series with a 6-3 record. As if to put themselves in a playoff mindset, several Habs had even alluded to how they approached their last five games against the Flames as a best-of-five home-and-home series. The Canadiens just lost it 3-2, getting outscored 15-9 in the process.
More to the point, over their last three games in Calgary, the Canadiens lost the first two in decisive fashion before eking out the 2-1 win to save face and thankfully put at least some distance between the two teams in the standings. Truth be told, the Canadiens needed to show a lot more than they did to convince anyone that they have what it takes to make some noise down the stretch and into the playoffs. They failed miserably.
Canadiens Not as Desperate as Flames
Said Tyler Toffoli, the Canadiens’ leading goal scorer after the 2-1 victory: “I think we played a team that’s extremely desperate right now and I think we found a way to contain them and we’ve just got to be ready to put this game behind us and move forward and be ready to go Wednesday.”
Toffoli has been one of several bright spots this season and who knows where the Canadiens would be without him or his 25 goals, good for fourth in the entire league? However it doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the Canadiens’ chances against the division-leading Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday (or come the playoffs) when the Canadiens couldn’t come out on top overall in a set of must-win games against a team below them in the standings. The Canadiens should have been just as desperate, no?
Yes, technically speaking, the Canadiens got all they needed with the 2-1 win. In contrast, the Flames probably needed a clean three-game sweep to keep their playoff hopes alive. Now that the Canadiens are six points up on them with nine games left in their season (including one in hand), the Flames are realistically extinguished. However, all the Canadiens have proven over the last few months is they still have a lot to prove in general.
Case in point, after having started the season like a bat out of hell with a 5-0-2 record in a dominant January, the Canadiens have gone 16-17-7 since. In short, while many blame “inconsistency” for their woes in the sense the Habs can only perform up to their potential in spurts, the truth is the Habs have been largely mediocre this season.
Canadiens Expected to Make Playoffs
The playoffs may be in reach with a 91.9% chance that the Canadiens make it, according to Sports Club Stats. However, if the Canadiens just got out-“playoff-hockeyed” by a team that’s all but mathematically eliminated, do they really stand any hope once the postseason begins? Keep in mind, they still have to get there, with the Vancouver Canucks, having just returned from their own COVID-19 hiatus, seemingly no worse for wear, theoretically able to catch them as well. Nothing is guaranteed.
For the sake of argument though, assume the Habs make the playoffs as largely expected. On paper the Canadiens can compete with the teams above them in the standings on any given night. Of the three teams with better records than the Canadiens in the North Division, the Winnipeg Jets played them the hardest. The Habs still have a half-decent 2-3-3 record against them, with three overtime losses that could have gone either way. Even if you were to argue that the Canadiens’ 2-9 record in extra time this season proves otherwise, there’s no three-on-three in the playoffs. Furthermore, the Canadiens posted their most impressive victory of the season (7-1) against the Jets, further muddying the waters.
So, yes, the Canadiens have a shot come the playoffs, at least to build on last season’s first-round finish and declare this winter of our discontent of a season a success. However, while they thankfully have no more games remaining against the Calgary Flames, they still have a few left against the Detroit Red Wings-incarnate Ottawa Senators. They also face the Maple Leafs (four more games), Oilers (two), and Jets (one) before the end of the season.
Unless it’s the Canadiens’ game plan to lull the opposition into a false sense of security before the playoffs, they have to find their collective game like yesterday. They may have beaten the Flames on Monday, but they’ve still got to get into playoff-shape, because, as the Flames series just proved, they’re not there yet. They’re not done yet either, in more ways than one.
If they had lost all three games to the Flames, the Canadiens might have still had the upper hand in the standings, but it’s hard to imagine how they might have been able to rebound emotionally speaking. So, there is just cause for them to feel at least slightly relieved, hell reinvigorated after having put the Flames in the rear-view mirror. However, if they don’t actually show that supposed second wind, it only means they’re effectively out of breath before the playoffs even start instead. It’s looked that way up to now, at least. They’re running out of time to show something different.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.