The Montreal Canadiens have surprised everyone and made it to the Stanley Cup Semi-finals, where they will play the Vegas Golden Knights, with the winner getting a date with the Cup. The Canadiens came back from a 3-1 deficit in round one to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs and then swept the Winnipeg Jets in round two. They achieved this success through a full team effort, but the Habs will have to have a few players step up their game to overcome the Golden Knights. Here are three players that need to start producing for the Canadiens to move past the Knights.
The Canadiens traded Max Domi to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Josh Anderson in the recent offseason, then signed Anderson to a seven-year $5.5 million contract. Anderson was coming off a terrible season where he scored one goal and only played 26 games due to shoulder surgery. This had some asking serious questions about Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin’s thought process in signing Anderson to such a long contract. Anderson, however, proved his worth in the regular season, scoring 17 goals and playing a solid two-way game while providing some much-needed size in the top six.
Anderson started the playoffs on a high, scoring the first goal in the first game against the Leafs, helping the Canadiens to a 2-1 victory. However, since that first game, he’s not put up a single point while playing on a line with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Paul Byron. As a power forward who scores most of his goals off the rush, you can expect scoring slumps from Anderson, especially with how the Canadiens are currently playing and not using the rush to score. Anderson will need to use his speed and strength to score goals and create offence against the Golden Knights to help the Canadiens advance to the Final.
I will probably take a beating for even mentioning Brendan Gallagher in this list, but it’s a hill I’ll stand on for now. Gallagher is the heart and soul of the Canadiens, embodying what it means to wear bleu, blanc, et rouge. His never-give-up attitude and hard work on the ice were sorely missed in the regular season when he broke his hand — again. Gallagher’s production isn’t terrible (he has four points in 11 games), which technically has him tied for fifth on the team.
Gallagher has two goals but needs to produce more; for the Canadiens to defeat the Golden Knights, they will need more Gallagher-type goals from close in front of the net. He’s had a perfect playoff in all other aspects of his game, he’s forechecking and backchecking well, and his line with Phil Danault and Artturi Lehkonen has been doing a tremendous job of shutting down their opponent’s top line. The downfall is that the line isn’t producing offensively. With Gallagher being the goal-scorer on that line, he needs to step up his game and start helping this line score and defend.
This last player was a tough one to put here, and like Gallagher, it’s not that he’s playing badly; he’s just not producing the way he should or could be. Cole Caufield joined the Canadiens late in the season after the NCAA season was over — one in which he dominated, winning the Hobey Baker award as a top collegiate player. He quickly settled into the pro leagues by scoring two goals in his first pro game with the Canadiens’ minor league affiliate, the Laval Rocket, before joining the Canadiens. Once he cracked the Habs’ lineup, he quickly made a name for himself by scoring his first two goals of his career in overtime (OT), which helped the Canadiens secure a playoff berth.
Caufield will be a star player, and there is no doubt he has already had big moments in his career, including two in these playoffs. He was the set-up guy for Nick Suzuki’s OT goal that prolonged the series against the Leafs, as well as for the series-winning goal by Tyler Toffoli in OT against the Jets. So why is he on this list? Again, it’s not that he hasn’t played well; it’s that he hasn’t scored. Caufield is a prolific goal-scorer and could be the next great goal-scorer in the league, yet so far, in nine playoff games, he has zero. Once he gets that first goal, one can expect the flood gates to open, and this could change the dynamics of the series and give the edge to the Canadiens.
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All three players have brought something to this season’s playoffs: Anderson is playing very well with the forecheck and defensive side of the game; he’s hitting and making it difficult for forwards to enter the Canadiens’ defensive zone. Gallagher is doing Gallagher things, creating chaos in front of the net and winning puck battles all over the ice. Caufield is setting his teammates up for big-time goals and increasing his shot rate. This list isn’t about who playing poorly; it’s about who needs to step their game up to give the Canadiens an advantage over the Golden Knights and help the Habs into the Stanley Cup Final — and maybe win their 25th Cup in a season where it didn’t look like they would even come close.