Montreal Canadiens Need To Win Next Three Games To Stay Near Playoff Race

CALGARY, ALBERTA - DECEMBER 19: Max Domi #13, Nick Suzuki #14 and teammates of the Montreal Canadiens celebrate an overtime goal against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome on December 19, 2019 in Calgary, Canada. (Photo by Terence Leung/NHLI)
CALGARY, ALBERTA - DECEMBER 19: Max Domi #13, Nick Suzuki #14 and teammates of the Montreal Canadiens celebrate an overtime goal against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome on December 19, 2019 in Calgary, Canada. (Photo by Terence Leung/NHLI) /
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The Montreal Canadiens are falling far behind the playoff contenders in the Eastern Conference. They will need to start a three game winning streak tonight if they want to stay anywhere near the playoff race.

The Montreal Canadiens, like any professional sports team, take things one game at a time. It usually ends up poorly if a team looks ahead on the calendar or starts thinking about a game or two down the road. With parity keeping things closer than ever in the National Hockey League, not being 100% focused on a given game can lead to a loss fairly quickly.

The Canadiens need to be focused heading into tonight’s game with the Buffalo Sabres, but they also need to know that anything less than a three game winning streak starting tonight will reduce their playoff hopes to zero.

In the next four days, the Habs will take on three teams that stand between them and a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens are currently ten points behind the Carolina Hurricanes for the second wild card spot. They are also ten points back of the Florida Panthers for the third playoff seed in the Atlantic Division.

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It is a huge uphill climb to make up that much ground on a team. It is even more daunting when you consider the Habs are 12th in the conference standings so they have to leapfrog at least four teams to get into the postseason.

In order to complete that task, the Habs will have to be among the best teams in the league for the rest of the season, and will also have to win key games against teams between them and the postseason. The next three games happen to be against teams directly between the Habs in 12th and the postseason.

It starts tonight with a game in Buffalo. The Sabres are tied with the Canadiens in points with 51, but have played one less game and have more wins in regulation and overtime which is the tiebreaker between teams tied in points at the end of the regular season.

On the weekend, the Canadiens face the Florida Panthers on Saturday afternoon. The Panthers occupy the third seed in the division right now which is a key spot. Three teams from each division are guaranteed playoff spots. If the Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs don’t take off in the final 30 games, getting the third seed in the division could be easier than grabbing a wild card spot for the Canadiens.

The Blue Jackets visit the Bell Centre on Super Bowl Sunday for a matinee. Those same Blue Jackets edged out the Canadiens for the final wild card spot last year and are on pace to finish in pretty much the same spot. Losing to the Jackets would make the very difficult task of competing for the wild card spot a little closer to an impossibility.

Even with a three game winning streak, the Habs would have 57 points in 54 games when the Super Bowl begins. They would still need to go on an incredible run over the final third of the calendar to get near the postseason. With the team getting healthy, they have an ability to play better than they have recently, but jumping from 12th to the top eight in the conference is a tall task.

Not only do the Habs have to win the majority of their remaining games, they have to win all of the key contests. A loss to a western conference team mixed in with several wins wouldn’t be the end of the world. However, a loss to the Panthers, Maple Leafs, Blue Jackets or Sabres would suck the final bit of wind out of the Habs sails.

A miracle may be required to reach the 2020 postseason, but it isn’t quite impossible just yet for the Habs. It would take a terrific run over the final 31 games, but a lot can happen in two and a half months. What if the Leafs and Panthers struggle and the third seed in the division is up for grabs?

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It will take a Herculean effort, and that starts with winning their next three games. Without a three game winning streak in the next four days the Canadiens will be just too far behind. It sounds dramatic, but they have no choice but to go perfect in the next few days to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.