The Montreal Canadiens find themselves in a rather weird position heading into game 46 of a strike-shortened season. Certainly in a regular 82 game schedule, Montreal would have ample time to figure out what has gone wrong over the past 5 games or so. The ebb and flow of a normal NHL season almost always includes hot and cold streaks but this season has been as much a sprint as there ever could be. And like an Olympic sprint, the Habs were quick out of the gates, and have started to come back to the pack as the finish line approaches. They are currently a lot like the sprinter who starts to tire at 80 meters – desperately trying to hold on to beat the pack. The metaphor stops there however.
No one could confuse the start of the NHL playoffs with a sprint. They are a war. When the second season starts you go to the battle with the army you have. In this regard, the short 2 day break that followed yet another lopsided loss couldn’t have come at a better time. With a couple days to regroup, this Montreal squad has had an opportunity to look in the mirror, to rest bumps and bruises, and most importantly – to practice together for the final three games of the season. In doing so, Montreal worked to regain the habits and cohesion that led them to incredible success in the first 40 games.
In this regard, one hopes that the Habs can view the next 3 games as a low-pressure tune-up rather than a high-stakes dog-fight. The team currently sits 4 points clear of Toronto for 4th spot in the Eastern Conference. Montreal could finish 2nd, 4th or 5th. Ultimately, the difference between those is small. All of the matchups in the East are going to be tight. There really aren’t any push-overs in playoff contention this season. Sure, home-ice advantage could be an important issue, but essentially the most important key to the final three games is to be playing the best hockey once game one of the playoffs finally happens. Whether the team wins tonight, or not at all over the next 3 games, they are guaranteed to be in the playoffs. As long as they can sort out the defensive lapses, and goaltending issues that have arisen over the past five games, the rest are details.
So tonight is an opportunity for the Montreal Canadiens. It was not that long ago that we were all praising this team’s work-ethic, cohesion, and tenacity. Despite the injury to Alexei Emelin, the cast of players remains unchanged. All that is left is to regain that confident swagger that served this team so well for the majority of the regular season. Doing so will require attention to detail, commitment to the system, and calm in the face of adversity, and heck – a little puck luck wouldn’t hurt.
Go Habs Go!!