The first round playoff match-up between the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators was only announced yesterday but the anticipation is already hyping up to new heights. The memories of the 2013 playoffs are on the minds of both fan bases as the Habs look to avenge the loss of two years ago while the Sens look to continue their magical run. The Habs have struggled against the Sens this season and they are riding on the play of goaltender Andrew Hammond and rookie scorer Mark Stone. More than a few outlets have pegged the Habs as the underdog despite being the second seed in the conference.
The Habs are a different team than the one that was defeated by Ottawa in 2013. Two years ago, Carey Price had lost his game and struggled at the end of the regular season which spilled over into the playoffs. This time, he just completed the best season of his career and is basically a lock for the Vezina while the Hart is a possibility. The Habs rely heavily on Price but he oozes confidence and gives the team a chance to win every night.
As for the rest of the core, veterans Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov have had their best seasons statistically in awhile and continue to be leaders for the team. PK Subban has rounded his game out and is one of the premier defenseman in the game. Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk have matured greatly since their rookie years and will have bigger roles this time around. Lars Eller has ramped up his game in recent weeks and could be a difference maker for the Habs. There is concern about Max Pacioretty and whether he’ll be ready to go for Wednesday but if he does play, he is Montreal’s best forward.
Overall, the Habs have a better defense corps, an older and more mature core and more size than they did two years ago.
The Sens have had a magical month and a half of hockey. At one point, they were 14 points of a playoff spot but backed by the surprising performance from Hammond, the team fought their way into playoff spot. Ottawa is rife with young players such as Stone, Mike Hoffman, Mike Zibanejad and Curtis Lazar while Erik Karlsson, Kyle Turris, Clarke MacArthur and Bobby Ryan are all young veterans. Firing Paul MacLean and appointing Dave Cameron as head coach has done this team a lot of good as they struggled out of the gate to start the season.
Ottawa is the hottest team in hockey and whether they will carry that over into the playoffs will determine how well they do. They don’t have the experience of Montreal but some wonder whether the Sens’s size, especially on defense, could be an advantage.
In this series, the Sens have nothing to lose as the seventh seed and don’t have the same pressure to win as Montreal. They did well against the Habs this season so they will the confidence to go toe-to-toe with them.
Ultimately, the Habs are the better hockey club and have an all world goalie on their side. But like any team that makes the playoffs, the Sens should not be taken lightly as they have a lot of confidence and momentum built up over the past few months. The Habs have the pressure to repeat last year’s playoff performance and will have to step up their game to beat the pesky Sens. On the other hand, Ottawa has virtually played playoff like hockey the past two months so it could either help or hurt them when the real games start. I think the Habs will take this series but the Sens won’t go down without a fight.