Monday April 27th, 2015

The Canadiens secured their berth in the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 2–0 victory over the scrappy, upstart Senators in Game 6 behind an incredible 43-save performance from goaltender Carey Price.

Here are three quick thoughts on the Habs’ series-clinching win:

1. Price reminded us why he’s a favorite to win the Hart Trophy.

After Montreal took a 3-0 lead in this series, the Senators recaptured their “team of destiny” identity with consecutive victories, including an inspiring 5–1 win in Montreal in Game 5 that made a seven-game series seem inevitable. But destiny was no match for the heroics of the Habs’ netminder.

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Price was indomitable on Sunday, stopping all 43 shots he faced and relegating Game 5’s suboptimal performance to distant memory. 

Though the Senators started slowly, failing to record a shot until nine minutes had passed in the first period, they eventually ramped up the pressure. Ottawa outshot Montreal 16-3 in the second period and 14-4 in the third, but Price turned away chance after chance.

Overall, the Canadiens were largely lackluster in Game 6. But their goalie was exceptional, demonstrating why he’s considered a favorite to win the Vezina and Hart trophies while shutting out the Senators for the first time all season.

2. Bad luck played a role in Ottawa’s loss.

Blaming a refereeing decision for defeat is always ill advised, and one game—much less an entire series—cannot be chalked up to officiating. But a poor call will undoubtedly leave the Senators feeling like they should be preparing for Game 7. 

With 13:05 remaining in the second period, Sens defenseman Mark Borowiecki blasted a shot at Price, who appeared to catch the puck with his body. But the puck slipped free, allowing Jean-Gabriel Pageau to poke it into the net.

One problem: Officials had blown the whistle, thinking Price had secured the puck.

The officials clearly understood they had erred, but unfortunately for Ottawa the play wasn’t reviewable. What’s clear is that the score could have been very different.

To the Senators’ credit, they hardly let that officiating miscue disrupt their composure. Ottawa’s play actually improved after the waved-off goal but the Sens were not able to capitalize on their momentum.

Even Montreal’s first goal, which stood as the only score of the game until an empty-netter at the last second, involved a bit of strange luck. After getting an opponents’ stick caught in his skate, Brendan Gallagher freed himself and headed toward the net.  He then deflected a shot from near the blue line off his chest like a soccer player and batted the puck with his stick past an unsuspecting Craig Anderson. The dazzling sequence gave the Canadiens their first 1–0 lead of the series.

Full game recap | box score

3. Moving forward, Montreal will have to pick up its offense.

The Canadiens deserve a ton of credit for putting the Senators in a 3-0 series hole and then withstanding a rally from one of the hottest teams in the NHL down the stretch. But while Montreal will be pegged by most as a favorite to advance past the Red Wings or Lightning in the next round, the Habs’ uninspiring play on offense during the last three games is cause for concern.

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In the last three games, Montreal scored four goals, one of which was Max Pacioretty’s empty-netter at 19:59 of the third period in Game 6. Though Craig Anderson’s stellar performance in net in Game 5 largely explains Montreal’s 5–1 defeat—the Habs outshot the Sens 46-25 that game—the Canadiens’ top offensive performers from the regular season will need to step up as the playoffs move forward. Pacioretty, who led the team in points during the regular season, has only two goals after five playoff games, while Tomas Plekanec, the team’s second-highest point scorer in the regular season, has just two points. A balanced offensive effort helped the team jump to a 3-0 series lead, but the Habs’ top scorers must do more.

The good news for the Canadiens is that the team is showing early in the postseason that it knows how to win close games. The Habs’ first three wins of the series were by one goal, and two of those came in overtime. Their fourth victory was essentially a one-goal game, with Pacioretty’s empty-netter doubling Montreal’s lead as time expired.

If any team can afford to have its offense sputter, it’s the team that has Carey Price between the pipes. But even the stingy Price can’t keep carrying the Habs with so little margin for error. 

Or can he?

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