Jared Cowen (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Montreal Canadiens netminder Carey Price has been brilliant all season and it’ll be up to him to outduel Ottawa Senators goaltender Andrew ‘Hamburglar’ Hammond. If the Canadiens’ offense can get hot, there’s no telling how deep Montreal can go.
HOW THEY WIN
CANADIENS: Who's kidding whom? When your goaltender is putting together a historically dominant season worthy of Hart Trophy consideration, it's a generally accepted principle that he is the key to your hopes. You can dismiss the Canadiens all you want, but goaltending is still an enormous part of the game in the playoffs, and the Canadiens have one of the very best in the NHL. Combine that with a team that transitions from offense to defense quickly and is one of the most opportunistic in the league and it can provide a formula for playoff success. Whether it's their historical mystique or their goaltending, the Canadiens have an uncanny ability to get into the heads of their opponents and crush their hopes before they have a chance to gain any steam. Yes, the Canadiens are top-heavy in terms of talent, but that top is as good or better than anyone else's.
SENATORS: The Senators have relied on their youthful vigor and a group of kids who have turned out – at least in the short term – to be much better than expected. Anyone who thought Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone would be in the Calder Trophy conversation at the beginning of the season, go directly to the front of the class and collect your gold star. As they showed in their late-season run, the Senators are a team that plays on emotion. Andrew Hammond provided the Senators with outstanding workhorse goaltending and a feel-good story around which the entire organization could rally. If the Senators can harness that energy and carry it into a playoff run, who knows how far a team of guys who are too young to realize they shouldn't be doing what they're doing can go? Oh yes, and it helps they have the most dynamic offensive defenseman in the game today in Erik Karlsson.
HOW THEY LOSE
CANADIENS: In a multitude of ways. The Canadiens are one of the worst teams from the goal out when it comes to analytics, and when Carey Price isn't the best player on the ice for either team in a game, the Canadiens' chances of winning are almost non-existent. They have some size on defense, but the Canadiens up front are still a small group that does not challenge opponents for possession of the puck, and they give it up far too easily. They're a team that, when it gets a lead, no matter how small, tends to go into a shell that lends itself to flurries in the defensive zone. That results in being badly outshot and Price being badly overworked. The Canadiens claim not to be too concerned about their propensity for relying on superhuman goaltending, but too many headlines read: “Canadiens lean heavily on Price's (insert big number here)-save performance.”
SENATORS: That's tough to pinpoint because they hadn't done much losing late in the season, but the Senators will go only as far as their top-heavy core will carry them. Unlike seasons past, the Senators' depth players have not been as productive and if and when their stars like Bobby Ryan go cold, things look bleak. And that does not bode well when a team is entering the two months of the season when the games and series are as much a battle of attrition as they are showcases of talent. You get the sense the Senators are riding a wave as far as it will take them and if/when that wave crashes, things could go south in a hurry. When a team enters the playoffs just happy to be there, things almost always don't end well. And you can't help but think that in the backs of their minds, the Senators aren't preparing for a deep post-season journey.
GOALIE ZONE by Jamie McLennan
CANADIENS: Along with Nashville's Pekka Rinne, Carey Price has been the best goalie in the game this year. The challenge for any team going against Price is to keep him in his net. Traffic is key. I don't think he has any warts in his game, and he's very well rounded. He will fight through screens, and he'll also draw penalties. If you're facing him, the message has to be, “everything to the net” – get in front of him and keep him in the blue paint, because he can be very aggressive. He's the benchmark for greatness right now.
SENATORS: Andrew Hammond is interesting and a great story. His leg power is outstanding and what gives him a chance on scramble plays. The best goalies – Jonathan Quick, Carey Price – have that same elite leg strength. Craig Anderson, meanwhile, is one of the NHL's best goalies when it comes to reading the play. It's not about anticipation for him as much as it is knowing the shooter's options. Where he can get into trouble is adjusting after the first shot. Some teams call him a first-shot goaltender: he can make the first stop, but it's a battle for the second one.
CANADIENS: Consider newly acquired Devante Smith-Pelly the deepest of fantasy flier picks if you believe in a deep Montreal playoff run. His robust physical game will earn him a larger role in the playoffs, and he showed clutch ability last spring while still with the Anaheim Ducks, sniping five goals in 12 post-season contests.
SENATORS: Mike Hoffman has been one of the league's hottest scorers in the new year, performing as a bona fide first-liner with 15 goals from January to mid-March. His Ottawa Senators likely won't go far in the post-season if they squeak in to complete their miracle run, but Hoffman offers a nice short-term boost in pools that prioritize goals.
KEY MATCHUP by Dom Luszczyszyn It really is amazing just how similar P.K. Subban and Erik Karlsson are, which is what will make this series truly electrifying. The play runs through them and they’re not afraid to jump into the rush which has helped both of them post gaudy point totals. The former Norris Trophy winners have been neck-and-neck in goals when they’ve faced each other, with Subban holding the shot attempt advantage. That’s true of this season, too. Both have very similar goal impacts, while Subban was a slightly more dominant possession player. Although similar at 5-on-5, Karlsson holds the edge on the power play, scoring nine more points with the man-advantage.
THN PREDICTION: Ottawa in six.
READ THN'S OTHER ROUND 1 PREVIEWS IN OUR STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF FEED.