The Montreal Canadiens recent hot play has them in an enviable position in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Just over two weeks ago I wrote about the pressing need for the Canadiens to start playing better and win some hockey games before the Olympic break. It was January 24th, the Habs had lost five of their past seven, and had fallen out of the top three in the Atlantic Division.
I stated that the Habs had eight games remaining before the Olympics and only two of their opponents, Tampa Bay and Boston, were in a playoff spot. It was a huge opportunity for the Canadiens to bank some points in the standings and solidify their standing in the East. I noted that it was possible they could go 6-2-0 in this stretch due to the weak opposition.
They would lose 5-0 that night to the Washington Capitals in one of the worst efforts I have seen from the Habs in several years. Things did not look good for Montreal and most fans began calling for Michel Therrien to be fired as Head Coach of the team. I agreed.
However, and only thanks to phenomenal play from Carey Price, the Canadiens turned their fortunes around. It started with a 3-0 shutout victory over the Carolina Hurricanes and was followed by a solid 4-1 win over the tough Boston Bruins.
Offensive woes would catch up to the Habs on Super Bowl weekend as they lost back to back games 2-1, but were able to grab a point against the Lightning.
Three straight wins would follow, as the Habs knocked off the Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and Hurricanes in order before heading into the break yesterday.
The loss to Washington was certainly the low point of the season, but instead of packing it in, the Habs went on a 5-1-1 run, and now stand third in the Atlantic Division, just one point back of Tampa for second. They have a seven point cushion on the teams outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
With 23 games remaining on the schedule, and 70 points in the bank, going 11-11-1 down the stretch would be plenty to make the playoff in the East. In fact, the Detroit Red Wings are on pace to make the postseason with just 90 points. That can and will change as the season goes on, but chances are it won’t change by a lot.
According to www.sportsclubstats.com, the Canadiens currently have a 91.2% chance of making the postseason. The Habs have been relying heavily on Price for wins, so it is no guarantee that they can reach the postseason, but their 5-1-1 record in the last seven games gives them some breathing room in the standings.
The Habs have an extremely difficult schedule once the Olympic break ends. First, they take on Detroit, Pittsburgh and Toronto before heading out west to play Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix and San Jose.
It will not be easy, and the Habs may need to bring in some reinforcements to help them score goals. However, thanks to their impressive play of late, the Canadiens are in an excellent position to make the playoffs at the end of the season.