Last night the Montreal Canadiens secured first seed in the Atlantic Division, all but certainly setting up a post-season meeting with the New York Rangers for the fifteenth time. Remarkbaly the Rangers hold an 8-7 series win advantage over the NHL’s most successful team, including wins in their last two match-ups in 1996 and 2014.
That’s not to say this will be easy…
To say the Rangers benefitted from the injury to Carey Price in 2014, after Chris Kreider collided with him in Game 1 would be an understatement. The Canadiens still managed to win two games with Dustin Tokarski in net, a guy who had never appeared in a playoff game prior to the call-up, and has played just 26 NHL games in the three seasons since the series loss.
Les Habitants also have a coach in Claude Julien, who has typically had good success against Alain Vigneault sides, particularly in Boston when the Bruins came back to defeat the Canucks in seven games to take the Stanley Cup. Since taking over on February 14th, the Canadiens have gone 15-5-1 under their “old” new coach, and are currently on a five game win streak.
The only consolation for the Rangers would be that two wins required a shootout, and a further five needed overtime and the three on three to decide. Neither of those scenarios will be employed in the post-season of course.
By contrast the Rangers finally ended an eight game losing streak on home ice on Sunday, in relatively unconvincing fashion. They’re struggled for consistency in recent weeks, with a 10-8-5 record dating back to February 16th, givnig up 4 or more goals on seven occasions.
Head to head this year, the Canadiesn also own a perfect 3-0 record. A 5-4 win back in January was followed up by a 3-2 shootout victory and a more recent 4-1 win, the latter two games both at Madison Square Garden.
On form and on paper this looks like a mismatch, and the Rangers will need to come up with somethign unexpected if they hope to progress beyond the first round.