Stu Cowan: Only thing predictable about Canadiens is unpredictability


    After pulling off an upset victory over Penguins in qualifying round, can they do it again against the Flyers in first round of playoffs?

    TORONTO — Here’s what some bozo prognosticator said on Pittsburgh’s 93.7 The Fan radio station before the start of the Canadiens’ qualifying-round postseason series against the Penguins.

    “The days of the Flying Frenchmen are long gone. This is a team that struggles to score goals, they’re terrible on the power play and they rely on Carey Price, which is why Marc Bergevin gave him that $84-million contract. But even Carey Price standing on his head doesn’t guarantee the Canadiens a win. This is not a good hockey team, they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs. They had a 31-31-9 record.

    “They’re actually worse now than they were before the trade deadline,” the bozo added, noting that Bergevin traded away Ilya Kovalchuk, Nate Thompson and Marco Scandella. “For me, personally, if they win one game against the Penguins I think that’s about all they’re good for.”

    That bozo would be me, who was invited on The Fan Morning Show with Colin Dunlap and Chris Mack to set up the series.

    In my defence, I also correctly predicted the Columbus Blue Jackets would beat Toronto in five games. But that was pretty easy since the talented but heartless Maple Leafs haven’t won a playoff series since 2004 — when Auston Matthews was 6 — and they haven’t won the Stanley Cup since (all together now) 1967.

    The only thing predictable about this Canadiens team is their unpredictability — especially after they upset the Penguins in four games.

    Carey Price was outstanding, posting a 1.67 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage. Price was also outstanding the last time the Canadiens were in the playoffs three years ago, posting a 1.86 GAA and a .933 save percentage, but it wasn’t enough as they lost a best-of-seven first-round series in six games to the New York Rangers.

    The difference this time is that Price got some offensive help from his teammates, who scored 10 goals in four games against the Penguins after scoring only 11 in six games against the Rangers. Defencemen Shea Weber and Jeff Petry had two goals each against the Penguins and so did 20-year-old centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Centre Nick Suzuki, who turned 21 on Monday, scored one and so did the much-maligned Jonathan Drouin.

    Surprisingly, Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar — who tied for the team lead during the regular season with 22 goals each — didn’t score against the Penguins. And yet, the Canadiens still won the series.

    “I’m not going to stand here and say we’re the underdogs … I’m not playing this card right now because it’s a lot of waste of time,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said about facing the Flyers. “Right now, what we have to do is we have to prepare — and as I said before, I’m going to be honest — we’re preparing to play, in my estimation, probably the best team here in the Eastern Conference right now.”

    The Flyers were 9-1-0 in their last 10 games before COVID-19 stopped the regular season in its tracks and they finished with a 41-21-7 record, 18 points ahead of the Canadiens, who played two more games. The Canadiens were 1-0-2 against the Flyers.

    The Flyers went 3-0 in the round-robin portion of these playoffs to earn the No. 1 seed in the conference and set up this matchup.

    “They’re so well structured and I think you look behind their bench they got three head coaches,” the Canadiens’ Brendan Gallagher said about the Flyers, who have Alain Vigneault and assistants Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo behind their bench. “And you could see it in their play. Throughout their lineup, it doesn’t matter what line, their details in terms of their structure, it’s pretty sound. For us to have success in this series we’re obviously going to have to be able to penetrate a few of those areas and, as the series goes on, try and maybe take advantage of a few things. But we know our chances aren’t going to come easy.

    “It’s kind of going to be the same formula as it was last series in terms of simplify the game early on, make them have to work for every opportunity they get,” Gallagher added. “If frustration can play into it a little bit it helps, it works in our advantage. Those tight games are what we’re looking for. Those games where you’re able to just come at teams and come at them and hopefully they’re able to break before we do. But when you talk about the team that we’re playing over there, they’re as sound as any team in the league right now, so we know we have a tough challenge ahead of us.”

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