The Montreal Canadiens open the Eastern Conference Final this afternoon against the New York Rangers at the Bell Centre. It is the first series that Montreal holds home ice advantage in these playoffs. That does not necessarily make them huge favorites over the Rangers, but home ice has been a huge advantage for the Habs this spring.
The Habs began round one on the road in Tampa Bay, and first hosted the Lightning in Game 3. Rene Bourque opened the scoring just 11 seconds into the game, and the Canadiens took a 3-0 stranglehold on the series with a 3-2 win.
Game 4 was two nights later and this time the Canadiens took the lead 2:24 into the game on a Daniel Briere goal. The Habs dominated throughout the game on home ice, outshooting the Lightning 37-23, and coming out on top thanks to last minute power play goal by Max Pacioretty.
The Canadiens moved on to the second round and hosted the Bruins in Game 3 with a chance to break a 1-1 series deadlock. For the third straight home game Montreal opened the scoring in the first, this time on a Tomas Plekanec goal 10:57 into the contest. The Habs would find themselves ahead 3-0 late in the second period ona pair of breakaway goals from P.K. Subban and Dale Weise, and they hung on for a 4-2 win.
Montreal played another solid home game in Game 4 against the Bruins, but for the first time in the postseason they did not take a 1-0 lead in the first period at home. In fact, they did not score at all, and even though Price was fantastic and the team limited the Bruins chances, they fell 1-0 on an overtime goal by Matt Fraser.
The Canadiens fifth home game of the playoffs was Game 6 in a win or go home situations against Boston. The Habs got back to their ritual of taking an early lead on home ice when Lars Eller pounced on a Kevan Miller turnover and slid the puck past an outstretched Tuukka Rask just 2:11 into the game. Montreal would take control from there, playing one of their best games of the season, and shutting out the Bruins in a 4-0 Game 6 win.
That victory tied the series and improved the Canadiens record to 4-1 at the Bell Centre in the postseason. Most impressive about their home games this spring has been their ability to shut down the Bruins deep offensive attack. Montreal allowed just three goals to the Bruins in three games at the Bell Centre, including zero in regulation in the final two games.
In total, Price has only allowed eight goals in five home games this postseason, and if the Canadiens skaters were able to score just one goal in the Game 4 loss in overtime, the Habs may have escaped their series with the Bruins a little sooner than Game 7.
The Canadiens hosted the Rangers they are about to face twice in the regular season, and both were low scoring affairs. Back on November 16th, Montreal held New York to just one goal, but still lost 1-0. In the regular season finale for both teams, Montreal would return the favor, beating the Rangers 1-0 on an overtime penalty shot goal by Brian Gionta.
The Montreal Canadiens are very fortunate to have home ice advantage in the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 1993. Carey Price will be up to the task of shutting down the Rangers in Montreal, but the skaters are going to have to find a way to score more than they have on New York this season.
If they can, Montreal will be punching their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 21 years.