The deck is stacked against the Montreal Canadiens to hoist the Stanley Cup for a record 25th time this spring. However, that is true of each playoff team, who has to endure four gruelling rounds in order to earn the chance. It begs the question: What would constitute the path of least resistance for the Habs?
A few ground rules first: Seeds have yet to be finalized, so, just like in the spirit of this piece, the assumption is the Habs will end up in their best possible position, as winners of the Atlantic Division. And, because this is about making things easy for the Canadiens, the assumption is they’ll sweep every round while every other one will go the full seven games.
Hey, no one said this would be fair.
Also, because the ninth-place Los Angeles Kings are a playoff behemoth that the Canadiens would likely have to go through in order to win it all, they’ll conveniently be tossed aside as eliminated from playoff contention (even if they can quite realistically still make it… and yes win it all as either a wild-card team or the third Pacific Division seed like they did in 2012… and 2014).
Ditto for the ninth-place Ottawa Senators, who wouldn’t necessarily be considered Stanley Cup contenders were they to make it. However, since they’re 19-3-3 in their last 25 and 3-1 against the Canadiens this season, they are conveniently not worthy enough to earn a seed in this particular playoff bracket either.
So, without further ado, here is the ideal, semi-realistic Montreal Canadiens playoff bracket:
Round 1: Montreal Canadiens over Pittsburgh Penguins
If the playoffs were to start today, entering action Thursday night, this is the matchup Montreal Canadiens fans would see.
It would also be the one they would probably most like to see, seeing as a) Stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are on the Pittsburgh Penguins and b) No one else seemingly is, at least no one healthy.
That includes goalie Marc-Andre Fleury who could very well be ready to upchuck at any given moment as his at-one-point all-star-caiber season goes down the drain.
He has allowed 12 goals in his last three games, including four straight against the Ottawa Senators a few nights ago to drop a 4-3 overtime decision against one of the two teams chasing the Pens for a wild-card spot.
Top defensemen Olli Maatta (out for season), Christian Ehrhoff (day-to-day), and Kris Letang (indefinitely) are all currently out, as they join Pascal Dupuis (season) and Steve Downie (day-to-day) on the injury list, leaving a shell of a team that can’t get the puck out of its own zone.
The end result: A team that is 3-8-2 over its last 13 and one that will likely get eliminated in the first round no matter the opponent.
Detroit Red Wings over Tampa Bay Lightning
Simply put, the Canadiens got swept by the Lightning this season, while the Habs are 3-0 against the Red Wings heading into the fourth and final game between the two sides on Thursday (7:30 pm Eastern at the Bell Centre).
With the Canadiens still currently battling the Lightning for first in the Atlantic and the Red Wings not having yet clinched, few would argue with the simple premise that Detroit upsetting Tampa in the first round would be ideal for Montreal. The Canadiens would hypothetically get the winner after all.
New York Islanders over Washington Capitals
This is really just a matter of whom the Habs would prefer to face: Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin, who lit up the Canadiens with two goals in the two teams’ last meeting, or John Tavares, who has a single point against goalie Carey Price this season.
All three players could end up Hart Memorial Trophy nominees, so there really isn’t a good choice. There is a better one of the two, and, with the Islanders 0-3 against the Canadiens so far this season, it’s pretty clear-cut. Facing goaltender Jaroslav Halak again would be the icing on the cake.
Boston Bruins over New York Rangers
As the Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Rangers are one of the Canadiens’ main rivals to come out of the Eastern Conference. The Bruins, coincidentally last year’s regular-season champions, against whom the Habs were a perfect 4-0 this year, were 2-1 against the Rangers this season (same as Montreal). And, even if they don’t upset the Rangers, the chances are good that they tenderize them appropriately over the course of a long series.
St. Louis Blues over Winnipeg Jets
The Winnipeg Jets are a tough team to play against. Especially with Dustin Byfuglien coming back from suspension, even if they aren’t able to upset the Blues in a potential first-round series, they would make them easier to face in subsequent rounds.
Nashville Predators over Chicago Blackhawks
Everyone assumes the Predators are going to roll over in the first round, no matter the opposition. However, they are 1-1-2 against the Blackhawks so far this season. And, until evidence to the contrary materializes, Patrick Kane is still out, making the Blackhawks relatively vulnerable… well, vulnerable for them, anyway.
Anaheim Ducks over Minnesota Wild
This might very well constitute an upset even if the Anaheim Ducks are the best team in the Western Conference record-wise so far this season. However, Minnesota is an incredible 27-8-3 since acquiring goalie and Vezina Trophy-candidate Devan Dubnyk.
No one wants to face the Wild, but someone will have to. It might as well be the Ducks, who were 3-0 against Minnesota this season. They would be doing the Canadiens a solid by stretching their three victories to seven in the process.
Calgary Flames over Vancouver Canucks
In what would be a highly hyped all-Canadian matchup, the feel-good Flames would ideally dispatch the Canucks in a classic series. A good sign: The last time these two teams faced one another, it was a seven-game epic that kick-started Calgary’s 2004 run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Round 2: Montreal Canadiens over Detroit Red Wings
As mentioned earlier, the Red Wings have struggled recently, and, even if they will have come together to beat the heavily favored Lightning in the first round in this specific scenario, they are Montreal’s ideal second-round opponents.
New York Islanders over Boston Bruins
While hockey fans in general would be licking their lips at a potential all-New York matchup in the second round, logic dictates the Rangers would probably be able to beat the Islanders (and ultimately the Canadiens were they to face off against one another). The Bruins are a much more suitable opponent for the Islanders, who would be for Montreal in turn.
St. Louis Blues over Nashville Predators
Vezina Trophy-candidate Pekka Rinne is simply scarier than either Brian Elliott or Jake Allen, as great of a backup as the latter is. If the Blues can dispatch them in the second round, Habs fans would justifiably be grateful.
Calgary Flames over Anaheim Ducks
These Flames just won’t die, ideally keeping hope alive for a second all-Canadian series in the final by eliminating the would-be heavily favored Ducks.
Round 3: Montreal Canadiens over New York Islanders
The Habs’ chances against the Bruins in a third-round matchup would no doubt be good, but for the Canadiens to make it all the way, a repeat of 1992-93 would be the best-case scenario (obviously).
Calgary Flames over St. Louis Blues
Back in 2004, the sixth-seeded Flames eliminated three division champions en route to the Stanley Cup Final. There’s little reason they wouldn’t be able to eliminate the two current ones this season. Granted, that was over a decade ago and the players have changed. The end game remains the same, though.
Stanley Cup Final: Montreal Canadiens over Calgary Flames
In a repeat of the 1985-86 and 1988-89 Stanley Cup finals, look for the Canadiens to come out on top in the rubber match between two unlikely opponents. Excluding the 14 eliminated teams, everyone wins in this scenario… except the Canadiens maybe do a little more.