Never Too Late for Canadiens

It was a disappointing home loss for the Montreal Canadiens in Game 5 of their first-round matchup with the New York Rangers. The Canadiens have now lost two straight and will face playoff elimination in the confines of Madison Square Garden.

While it’s always bad to be down in a series, especially in a lose-and-you’re-done situation, there’s something about this particular seven-game set that makes it seem less stressful for either side. The teams are ridiculously evenly matched skill-wise, size-wise, even strategy-wise. What makes it almost impossible to gain any advantage or momentum is they’re also ridiculously consistent.

Models of Consistency?

Both the Canadiens and the Rangers are very good. They have a better-than-average maximum potential, and both clubs seem to play steadily at around 90 percent capacity. There’s a small drop off sometimes, but over an 82-game season, there’s rarely a night where you walk away thinking they stunk the joint out.

Tomas Plekanec
(Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

This consistent quality makes both teams very hard to beat. They make you have to play your top game almost every time in order to win. As a bonus, not only do you have to play well enough to consistently get to the net, but once you get there you have to beat Carey Price or Henrik Lundqvist.

Bottom of the Top

On the other hand, neither team could at any point this season realistically look in the mirror and say they played as good or better than the other top teams have played when they have their best nights. They just don’t have the guns to overpower, outscore, or impose their will on the rest of the league’s top 10. I’m not saying they aren’t exciting or that they don’t have players who can make exceptional plays to beat the top teams, but they lack the ability to overwhelm an opponent into submission for long stretches.

In every other series, you have some sort of X-factor. There’s something each team has as a sort of secret weapon that separates them from the pack. For example, there’s the two-headed monster in Pittsburgh where Malkin is a wild card. He was on form in round one so there was no hope for the Blue Jackets. If he hadn’t been, it would have dragged the Pens way down and changed the whole series. There’s a possibility for a high and a low.

The Edmonton Oilers didn’t even take part in a 7-0 loss in Game 4 of their series with the San Jose Sharks. Then they dominated the Sharks in the back half of Game 5, including the entire overtime. That series has been full of highs and lows.

Minnesota was at the top of the table for almost the entire year. They played very well in the playoffs but fell into a 3-0 hole because of a surprisingly consistent Jake Allen. Other things happened too, but Allen took over the series through the first few games. The list goes on in every other series.

Not with New York and Montreal. There is no X-factor. There are no highs and lows to take advantage of. It’s just a steady dose of medium high on both sides. Neither team is going to waiver because they’re incapable of it. If you’re waiting for this:

or this:

It just isn’t going to happen.

Enjoy the Moment

(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

The only way to beat either of them over seven games is to be able to find that burst of another level, that spark that lasts for a period or two over the span of three or four games and allows better teams to seize the moment. Neither the Canadiens nor the Rangers have that other level. They play well enough to not beat themselves, but they can’t turn it on regularly enough to beat the other. So they’re stuck in the ultimate stalemate.

These two teams can only take over in spurts of 30 seconds. Over a 60-minute game, each individual game and this entire series, in particular, could be decided at any moment, but that critical 30 seconds could happen in the first minute or the 50th minute. Therefore the Rangers will never be able to truly comfortably pull away.

With such a large window of opportunity to find the moment, the Montreal Canadiens should realize that no matter how late the 11th hour comes, they can afford to play with no stress or pressure. There’s no need for panic. Game 1, Game 6, Game 7. They can all be played the same way because there’s always another 30 seconds.