No one is really talking about it but the Montreal Canadiens must be considered a Stanley Cup contender at this point. Sure the Boston Bruins are big, bad and won it all two years ago but we’ve seen many times before that the Canadiens are capable of beating the Bruins in the playoffs. In fact, two seasons ago when the B’s won the Cup they barely got by the Habs in a first round series that went into game seven overtime before a winner was declared.
The Penguins receive a lot of attention as Cup favourites out of the East but as they showed last season losing in the first round, no team is unbeatable. Crosby and company look amazing on paper but they haven’t had any significant playoff success since their Stanley Cup in 2009. The Pens are clearly incredible and capable of beating anyone with their skill and experience but the Habs proved in the 2010 playoffs that strong team defence and hot goaltending can shut down the dynamic Crosby/Malkin duo.
Speaking of hot goaltending, with Carey Price in net the Habs have a competitive advantage over most teams. In the regular season goals are abundant making this advantage less obvious. Come playoff time many games are won by scores of 2-1, 3-2 or 4-3. In the close low scoring games Carey Price is very capable of outdoing any offensive superstars over the course of a tight checking seven game series.
The Habs weren’t contenders coming into this season and some may still be wondering how they are having this much success. Too many times as analysts and fans we look at a teams’ roster, consider last year’s results and expect things to repeat themselves. Thankfully for our entertainment value, things change from season to season. And this season, the Habs look good. They’re winning close games and playing physically. They have three solid lines that can push the pace and get under their opponents skin too, making them tough to play against.
Andrei Markov is very underrated. People close to the Montreal Canadiens know how good Markov is. Having him in the lineup this season gives the Habs one of the best defensemen in the league and defense wins championships. Markov has 21 points, including 3 game winners this season. He is leading the way for his Habs and should be considered a candidate for the Norris Trophy if he maintains this pace.
Offense from the defense. After starting the season late due to a contract dispute, P K Subban is producing offense at an impressive pace. He has tallied 9 goals and 13 assists for 22 points in 25 games. This form of offense from the back end typically comes in handy during a close scoring playoff game when a trailing defenseman or screened point shot is enough to win a game.
The Eastern Conference is wide open. On paper the Bruins and Penguins look to be the clear cut favourites and they should be considered the best threats coming out of the east. However, both were eliminated in the first round of last season’s playoffs to plant a little bit of doubt about their ability to dominate the way many believe they should. If Boston or Pittsburgh once again struggle to score on their chances in Boston’s case or prevent goals against in Pittsburgh’s case, the Habs could be the front runner to make the Stanley Cup Finals.