First off, there are some bad news and some good news. After suffering through an atrocious 2019-2020 season in which the team had not one but two 8 games losing streak and lost 4 times to the worst team in the league, the Canadiens still have a chance to make the playoffs. I'll let you make up your own mind as to whether this is a good or a bad news. Personally, I think long term, the Habs would be better off not taking part in the playoffs and having a shot at a better draft pick. Thankfully, that is still possible. Contrarily to what some news outlet are reporting, the Canadiens are not in the playoffs just yet, they are in a play in round. The top 4 teams in each conference are in the playoffs the next 8 best, according to winning percentage, will all be involved in a best of 5 play in round to qualify for the actual playoffs. The 4 teams per conference who lose in the play in round will be in the draft lottery and that, is a good news. At one stage, it was rumoured that only the 7 teams excluded from the return to play would be in the draft lottery. However, having 15 teams in just makes sense since they will be the 15 teams who did not make the playoffs...or does it?
Think about it, should logic not be respected and say the Canadiens beat the Penguins, Crosby and co. would end up in the draft lottery after getting 86 points in 69 games and not being anywhere near missing the playoffs standings wise and having a .623 points percentage. Doesn't seem to make much sense does it? That's the price you pay to have 24 teams return to action and therefore getting 24 fanbases involved and interested. The initial draft lottery will take place on June 26th but should the winner not be one of the 7 teams who won't take part in the 24 team affair, we wont know just yet who wins the Lafrenière derby and we'll have to wait until the end of the play in round to find out. There was no perfect way for the NHL to decide how to move forward really...the season wasn't over, some teams were outside looking in and still had a chance to make it and would have been robbed of that chance if the March 12th standings were deemed final and the top 8 made the playoffs.
So, when will this all start you say? Well, we don't know and neither does Gary Bettman. The NHL is moving to phase 2 pretty much now, meaning that players will be allowed to use training facilities in small groups on a voluntarily basis. Phase 3, which will consist in a training camp in readiness for the play in round (or the seeding round robin for the top 4 team in each conference) is expected to start some time in July. There are no fixed date yet because, as Bettman put it, the situation is fluid and this all depends of how things evolve with the pandemic. We know there will be only 2 hub cities, one for each conference and while it is possible that a Canadian city by used (either Vancouver, Edmonton or Toronto), it won't happen if the 14 days quarantine rule for people arriving from another country isn't lifted. Bettman also stated that the return to play would only take place if it was safe to do so and that the league intended to do plenty of testing as the tournament goes on. However, these tests should not be taken away from those who need them from a medical standpoint.
But, if and when this happens, the Canadiens would face the Penguins in a best of 5 series. Would this be a formality for Pittsburgh? While some think so, I don't to be honest. This season, the Habs faced the Pens 3 times, there was a 4-1 win in early December, a 3-2 overtime loss in early January and a 4-1 loss in February. No one can say that the Penguins blew the Habs out of the water... Furthermore, after this lengthy break, both teams will be fresh and ready for action. While that means that Pittsburgh will be able to count on a healthy Jake Guentzel, it also means that Carey Price will be rested and raging to go... Oh, and of course, Tatar is no longer injured and nor is Victor Mete. Don't expect to see Jesperi Kotkaniemi though, he's not cleared for contact from his spleen operation and there won't be any Alexander Romanov either. The NHL felt it wouldn't be fair to allow teams to use players who weren't theirs at the trade deadline and that seems fair enough. This will be a great chance for some young forwards to show what they can do in high pressure important games. Think of Max Domi for once, he has yet to play a single playoff game in the NHL and you can bet that he will be raging to go. If you are worried about his availability because of the fact he suffers from diabetes, well, he did say in his conference call a few weeks back that it did not made him more likely to catch covid-19. Coming off a bit of a let down season, Domi will get a chance to redeem himself and show Bergevin that he should sign him to a new contract. As for Jonathan Drouin, he played in the playoffs twice. 6 games with Tampa in 14-15 being held scoreless but the following year, he got 14 points in 17 games and showed how useful he could be...Although he was also wrecked by Thomas Hickey...who doesn't remember this hit?
I won't tell you about how the Habs beat the Pens in the 2010 playoffs because quite frankly, I don't think it's relevant considering the sole remaining Hab from back then is Carey Price who had only played 14 minutes in the series...After all, this was the Spring of Halak. When the puck drops, both teams will start with a clean slate and whoever wants it more, will win it's as simple as that. Price and Weber both said they wanted to win now and this will be their chance. Gallagher also stated that it's all about winning well, it will be time for him to put his money where his mouth is so to speak.
It will be interesting to see who will be in net for the Penguins. While they put all their chips on Matt Murray over Marc-Andre Fleury back in 2017, Murray's star has somewhat faded since then. There has been a lot of injuries and this past season, Tristan Jarry was on the verge of taking the number 1 job. Murray had a 2.87 GAA, .899 save percentage while Jarry has a 2.43 GAA and a .921 save percentage. One thing's for sure though, we know who'll be in the Canadiens' net, it's all up to Carey Price for us.
So, what do you think? Can the Habs pull this off? Do you want them to pull it off? Would you rather they had a shot at Lafrenière? I guess if one of the 7 excluded team wins the draft lottery on June 26th, it will sting a bit less should the Tricolore upset the Penguins right?