The Montreal Canadiens have advanced to the second round of the National Hockey League playoffs for the first time in four years, and they have many of their depth players to thank for helping the team sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning.
If you were to tell me at the start of the series, the line of Rene Bourque, Lars Eller and Brian Gionta would outscore the Habs top line of Thomas Vanek, Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais, I would have put money on the series being over in four games. The difference is, I would have bet the Canadiens would be the team heading home.
But that is exactly what happened. The Canadiens third line of Gionta, Eller and Bourque stepped up and played their best hockey of the season, combining for six goals, five assists and 11 points. The Habs first line of Desharnais, Pacioretty and Vanek totaled three goals and four assists for seven points.
What should excite Habs fans the most heading into round two, is that even though the top line did not put up a lot of points, they played exceptionally well, and dominated the Lightning for most of the series when they were on the ice.
The trio combined for 35 shots on goal in just four games, and heavily outshot their opponent in each game. Each player had several glorious scoring chances in the series, especially Pacioretty, who hit a post in overtime of the opening game, and continued to come close before finally scoring the series clinching goal late in game four.
Pacioretty is a streaky scorer who went seven straight games without a goal in March, then responded with nine goals in his next eight games. He then went six consecutive without a goal, but snapped that goalless drought last night, which could very well be the beginning of another hot streak.
It is only a matter of time before the Habs top line starts finding the back of the opponent’s net with more frequency. If the Canadiens depth players such as Bourque and Eller continue their great play in round two, the Habs will have an excellent chance of knocking off the Detroit Red Wings or Boston Bruins.
Vanek and Pacioretty will continue to draw the opponent’s top forward lines and defenders, while the line of Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher and Brandon Prust will be tasked to shut down the best offensive players on the opposing team.
This leaves the Eller, Bourque, Gionta line to face the depth players on the Bruins or Wings. This caused huge matchup problems for the Lightning in the opening round, as they could not afford to take Victor Hedman away from Pacioretty in an attempt to slow down the Habs third line.
It is up to Bourque and Eller to show up for round two the way they did for the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If they can, the Habs will be a very difficult team to play against, and could find themselves making a deep run in this postseason.