For the first time in this season’s NHL playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens face a must win game. Down 3-2 in their second round series with the Boston Bruins after sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning in the opening round, the Habs season is officially on the line.
Montreal has made it to tonight’s Game 6 in this series with very little production coming from what is supposed to be their first line. The Canadiens two top scoring forwards in the regular season, Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais, have combined for just three points in the five game series, including zero goals.
Pacioretty, especially, is expected to find the back of the opponent’s net, as he did 39 times in the regular season. He ranked fourth in the entire NHL in goal scoring in the regular season, finishing ahead of polished snipers such as Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and even Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguin who is a slam dunk choice for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP.
Yet, here we are entering the Canadiens 10th game of the postseason, and Pacioretty ranks in a tie for 102nd in playoff goal scoring. Though he remains tied with Crosby in that category, it is a sign of Crosby’s recent struggles.
Desharnais started the regular season ice cold, scoring just one point, an assist, in his first 19 games. Though he put up an impressive 51 points in his final 60 regular season contests, his series against the Bruins has resembled the guy who struggled mightily to begin the campaign.
Pacioretty and Desharnais have a unique chemistry, dating back to their days in the American Hockey League as members of the Hamilton Bulldogs. They are supposed to be the dynamic duo that leads the way offensively for the Canadiens no matter who they are matched up against.
It appears the Habs top forwards have met their match in Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask. Their speed has been minimized by excellent defensive play by Chara, and when they do get pucks on net, as Pacioretty has done 19 times in the series, Rask has been up to the task.
Pacioretty led the Canadiens in the regular season with 42 even strength points, and Desharnais was a close second on the team with 37. They were the only line, whether it was Gallagher or Vanek on the right side, that was able to bring consistent offense for Montreal at 5 on 5 all season. All three of their combined points in the series with Boston have come on the power play, meaning they are pointless at even strength in five straight games.
The Habs second line, led by center Tomas Plekanec is given the toughest defensive assignments, and are not counted on to lead the way offensively. The third line of Lars Eller, Rene Bourque and Brian Gionta had a great start to the postseason, but have seen their offense dry up in the past four contests.
The only consistent scorer throughout the playoffs for Montreal has been phenom defenseman P.K. Subban. This is great news for the Canadiens, and for Subban who will cash in this offseason, but it is up to the Habs top duo to step up with the season on the line tonight.
If the Montreal Canadiens have any chance of winning their next two games and move on to the Eastern Conference Final, it will take a pair of big games from Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais.
As the old saying goes, to win in the NHL your best players have to be your best players. Well, Carey Price and P.K. Subban have been the best players, but the Canadiens need their best forwards to be their best forwards tonight.