The Montreal Canadiens 2021 streak without trailing in a game ended at 9:15 of the opening period against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of the semi-final series, achieving 447:08, for the 2nd longest, only behind the 1960 Canadiens who achieved 488:38. By the end of the game and arguably sometime after the Canadiens went down by a score of 3-1 in the first period, their seven-game winning streak also came to an end. While positive streaks are nice feel-good building blocks, the Canadiens have more to think about when it comes to the Vegas Golden Knights if they want to think about advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Let’s maintain some honesty and integrity in that every major hockey analyst has discounted the Montreal Canadiens from advancing since probably around the mid-season mark when they were in a slump, eventually backing into the playoffs on their early season success. Those same hockey analysts counted them out against the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Winnipeg Jets. Sooner or later, if they keep betting against the Canadiens, they might just get it right and not because they know more than you do, it’s just playing the odds and what better way for any of them to say, “I told you not to bet on red”, than against Vegas. Now, while I wrote an article on May 25, 2021, called “Burn It Down” in reference to the HABS going down 3-1 to the Leafs, I always maintained they could pull out a miracle if they played to their strengths. Game 1 against Vegas may have started that way, but a few unlucky bounces, some bad penalties, and an unrecoverable psyche had them beat early and then often.
The Vegas Golden Knights are built a little different than the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Winnipeg Jets. The Leafs are a skilled team that despite some timely backstopping, lacked goaltending suave and couldn’t match up physically. The Winnipeg Jets are also a very skilled team with a bit more grit and more injuries than they could overcome, not to mention having one of their best players take himself out of the series through a selfish play that earned him a suspension. Both the Leafs and the Jets were far more beatable on the ice than media or fans expected, based on what was on paper.
The Knights have a few more components that the Canadiens haven’t seen yet. At the back end, they have a proven 3-time Stanley Cup, 2-time International Silver Medal, and 5-time Top-10 Vezina finalist in Marc-Andre Fleury. Now, like Carey Price, he needs a team in front of him because while he can also move the puck, he’s not going to score. He will however give up a lot of juicy rebounds and if the opposing team is able to gain the blue-line and penetrate the zone, he’s beatable. Getting into the Knight’s zone is not an easy thing to do, and they’ve shown that all season long, statistically backed up by the lowest goals against in the league at 122 over 56 games, resulting in the William Jennings Trophy honours. That is as much a goalie award as it is a team award. That doesn’t mean opposing teams can’t get through the castle’s wall and while the Colorado Avalanche lost, they showed that possibility, albeit with a different skill level than the Canadiens have. Up-front, the Knights are strong, fast, and skilled. They can score and play the body unlike the Canadiens first two opponents.
So, are all the analysts jumping back on the Canadiens are done bandwagon? Probably a few of them because they all want to be right, they want to be first, and they’re going with the odds, on paper. I never thought the HABS would sweep the Knights and I do think it has the potential for a 7-game series if a few things happen for the Canadiens.
First, stop taking consecutive penalties and hopefully the stripes continue to make consistent calls for both teams. Second, go to the net! We saw the impact of big Josh Anderson charging in and creating opportunity, but it was inconsistent and in fact, Josh has been absent and off of the scoresheet since Game 1 against the Leafs. Marc-Andre Fleury is going to give up rebounds and that spells opportunity if the Canadiens find their positions and if some of those lucky bounces go their way. Lastly, they’re not going to easily carry the puck over the blue-line against this team, so it’s time to dump and recover and be prepared to battle along the boards. If the Canadiens can’t find those opportunities, it will be a short series and if they can, they will beat the odds and give analysts one more round of, “they can’t possibly beat this team because...<insert rationale here>”
For sports content, please consider The Coach's Call YouTube Podcast.