The playoffs are upon us, ladies and gents. As a result of the modified format for this season, the Montreal Canadiens have qualified by the skin of their teeth. The road ahead is filled with peril as the Canadiens will have to take down the fifth-seed Pittsburgh Penguins in the play-in round.
These two teams had three games against each other this season and the Habs managed an even 1-1-1 record in those three games. This article will give a game-by-game prediction of how the series will pan out. It’s entirely opinion based, but we’ll try to use as many factors as possible when making the predictions. Please feel free to share your predictions in the comments below. And now, without further adieu, let’s get to the predictions.
A lot of what’s going to dictate the pace of these playoffs will be seen in the first couple of games. Unlike the normal format, the players haven’t played a game in over four months to this point and as such we may not see that nose to the grindstone style of play from the start. This should benefit the Canadiens in the early games of the series as the team is smaller than the Penguins on average. This will be Montreal’s best chance to win a game in the series as players like Joel Armia were a factor in the first few games of the regular season.
That, in combination with there being no true home-ice advantage (given the hub cities), is why I think Montreal will take Game 1, and it’ll be by a score of 4-2. The key players for the Canadiens will be Armia, Brendan Gallagher, and Paul Byron.
The Pens may be a veteran playoff squad, but even they haven’t faced a playoff format like this. Despite that, Pittsburgh won’t be caught off guard a second time, meaning this will be a much harder game for the Canadiens. The veteran Penguins’ squad had a good early season start at 6-3-1, so the fact that it won’t be your typical playoff atmosphere won’t be too much of a hindrance.
A combination of the players’ rust and the playoff fight will make this a high-scoring affair. My prediction for Game 2 is a 5-4 Penguins victory, with Montreal’s key contributors being Armia, Tomas Tatar, and Jonathan Drouin. I also believe right around this point is when we’ll start seeing a bit more of a playoff atmosphere as teams will start facing elimination.
Now that the teams have gotten some game action, we’re going to start seeing the pace increase. Unlike normal playoffs where fatigue can play a factor, this year all teams are as fresh as can be, so teams are less likely to be bullied. This may benefit the Canadiens, but the Penguins have the ability to win big games. As such, they’re not likely to let themselves be put in a spot in which they face elimination.
This is going to result in an absolute slaughter in Game 3 as Pittsburgh will be sure to not face elimination. I think the Pens will take it by a score of 5-1, with Montreal’s only goal coming from Shea Weber on the power play. This will mean we’ll have our first elimination game in Game 4.
This is where the desperation will set in for Montreal. Now, desperation can lead to mistakes, but the Habs have an “X” factor that can cover mistakes — goaltender Carey Price. The key to Montreal winning Game 4 will be Price closing the door because I wouldn’t count on an offensive explosion here.
Personally, I think this is the first game of the series that will go to overtime as Price’s performance combined with Pittsburgh’s play will send the contest to a 1-1 overtime duel. If the Canadiens win, I believe Tatar will score the winner as he’s the team’s leading scorer this season. The top players from the game will be Price, Tatar, and Jeff Petry as they go to the final game of the series.
If the Canadiens manage that win, then we go to the final game of the series. In the format for this year, this round will be best-of-five, so the winner here goes on to the next round. The key to victory here will also be Price holding down the fort and hopefully, the offence can string together enough goals to make it manageable.
Honestly, I don’t think the Canadiens will win Game 5 if they make it. The score will look worse than it actually is as there will be a few empty-net goals for a 6-2 Penguins win after three empty-net goals. The Canadiens are not likely to win an offensive shootout against the 13th-ranked offence in the league given that they were ranked 18th. Montreal’s goals will come from Armia and Nick Suzuki.
There are my predictions for every game of the Canadiens’ first-round series against the Penguins. What do you think? Will the Habs win the series, or will the Pens take it in fewer games? Let us know in the comments below how you think this series will play out.