The Montreal Canadiens were more interested in basking in their Atlantic Division championship and their 50-win season than talking about the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs. That might be for the best because the less said, the better.
Give the Montreal Canadiens credit. They could have tiptoed their way around Saturday night’s game and avoided the hottest team in the league with the hottest goalie and the hottest rookie. They could have looked at the all the obstacles the Ottawa Senators posed to them and rolled over. But they didn’t.
And who would have blamed them for, you know, maybe rolling over in the dying minutes of their 4-3 shootout win against the Toronto Maple Leafs? By gaining a point, the Canadiens won the Atlantic Division and their reward for that was a playoff series against the Senators, who went 23-4-4 down the stretch and earned the title of The Team You’d Least Like to Face in the First Round of the Playoffs.
(And that first round, according to one of the schedules that was drawn up in an Ottawa-Montreal scenario, will see the series open Wednesday night in Montreal, with Game 2 going next Friday night. The series will shift to Ottawa with Games 3 and 4 on April 20 and 22, with Game 5 going April 25 in Montreal.)
“There were so many scenarios, honestly, we didn’t know,” Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. “The way I see things, as long as there is a purpose to every game, you’ve got to be honest regarding the game, the fans…we came here with the best lineup possible and we played the game to win the game. You have to respect the game.”
Lars Eller, keep your head up because Eric Gryba will be looking for you. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, an up-and-downer between the minors and the NHL most times, had two goals and two assists against the Canadiens this season. The Senators won three of four meetings and (gulp), Andrew Hammond’s first win that started all this lunacy was against the Canadiens on Feb. 18. And Max Pacioretty, who led the Canadiens with four goals and six points in the series against the Senators this season, is not a sure thing for Game 1.
“A team with confidence is a scary team to play,” said Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher. “They have a lot of confidence and so do we. We’re playing with a lot of confidence right now.”
For the most part, the Canadiens seemed a little reticent to talk about their first round opponent. Carey Price, who put a bow on his Vezina and Hart Trophy season with two breakaway saves in the third period, was not in goal for two of the three losses to Ottawa this season. In his head, he might have been saying, “Seriously? I know this Hammond kid has been good and all, but do you really think he’s going to beat me in a best-of-seven series?” Repeat, he didn’t say that. But you’d have to admit it’s an intriguing matchup in goal.
And the Canadiens know what they’re up against. Defenseman Erik Karlsson led the Senators with two goals and five points, rookie Mark Stone was 2-2-4 and the Senators outscored the Canadiens by a 14-9 margin. Then there’s the specter of the series two years ago, when the Senators knocked off the Canadiens in five games. Get this, the Canadiens were the No. 2 seed two years ago and the Senators were the No. 7 seed. This time around, the Canadiens are the No. 2 seed and the Senators are again the seventh.
“It’s going to be demanding. It’s going to be really demanding,” Therrien said. “They certainly deserve to be in the playoffs with that push. It’s pretty phenomenal what they accomplished, but we’re going to have a lot of times to talk about the playoffs.”
The Canadiens, as they probably should have been, were more interested in talking about their first 50-win season since 1988-89. To be sure, the Canadiens accomplished a lot of good things this season. Price’s 44 wins set the franchise record for victories by a goalie, which, even in the overtime/shootout era is quite an accomplishment considering the goalies the Canadiens have sent to the Hall of Fame over the years.
For public consumption, the Canadiens don’t seem too consumed with the Senators and perhaps that’s the best approach for them to take. Because if they think too much about the Senators, it might make for an uncomfortable couple of sleeps.
“Come playoffs, it doesn’t matter to me who’s on the other side,” said defenseman P.K. Subban. “It just matters what we think in this dressing room and how we’re playing. So that’s where we’re going to focus for the next couple of days until Wednesday.”