The Montreal Canadiens slim playoff hopes keep fading and then flickering a little brighter. Their only real chance at getting in is to finish third in the Atlantic Division.
The Montreal Canadiens must be the only team in the salary cap era of the National Hockey League to have two separate eight game losing streaks, but refuse to let their playoff hopes disappear. Several times this season it looked like they were just too far out of it to have any chance at the playoffs.
Then, they would come back and go on a hot streak and get just close enough to have Habs fans crunching numbers again and talking themselves into it. I mean, if anybody can carry a team from the depths of peril into the postseason, it is Carey Price, right?
Once again, the Canadiens are on a hot streak, and Price just keeps getting better and better as the season goes on. He emphasized how confident he is right now by laying out for a two-pad stack save at the end of regulation against the Anaheim Ducks two nights ago. A goaltender doesn’t go full Martin Brodeur with the two pad stack in 2020 unless he is feeling pretty good about himself.
When that save forced overtime and Jeff Petry ripped home the game winner, the Canadiens improved their record to 8-3-0 in their last 11 games. Of course, this 11 game stretch comes on the heels of their second eight game losing streak, so it hasn’t exactly launched the Habs up the Eastern Conference standings.
What it does do, is leads to fans like myself taking another peek at the standings to see just how close the Canadiens are to a playoff spot. When you inspect their current situation, one thing becomes clear: as unlikely as it is, the path to the playoffs is through the Atlantic Division and not the wild card seeds.
Right now, the Habs are 11th in the conference standings. That means they have to jump over three teams to get into a wild card spot. Right now, those teams would be the Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes. Another issue with this path is the New York Rangers. They are 12th in the standings at the moment but have played four less games than the Canadiens and could pass them by winning just two of those as they are just three points back of Montreal.
So, to get into a wild card spot, the Canadiens would have to get more points than the Maple Leafs (or Panthers if they drop behind the Leafs), Hurricanes and Flyers while playing two less games than all of them and also somehow hold off the Rangers. That’s a tall task.
What is a slightly less tall task, is outpacing the Panthers and Maple Leafs over the final third of the season and sneaking into the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. It would require strong play over the final 26 games of the season and some help from the Leafs and Panthers shooting themselves in the foot.
That is more likely than gaining a wild card spot because it only requires two teams slowing down late in the season, instead of four. Also, the Panthers and Maple Leafs allow far more goals against than any other team that even has a chance at the playoffs in the east. If any teams are going to slow down when the games get tighter down the stretch, it will be the teams that can’t keep pucks out of their own net.
The Habs are currently five points back of the Panthers, and have played three more games than Florida. They sit six points back of the Maple Leafs and have played one more game than Toronto. It is still a long shot for the Habs to somehow climb over both division rivals, but it is slightly more plausible than zooming past four teams for a wildcard berth.
Also, the Canadiens will play Toronto and Florida twice more each this season. They will have to win all four games to give themselves a real chance at the postseason. If they do win all four of those games, they would need to be two points better than the Panthers and three points better than the Leafs in their other remaining games.
It’s not impossible. I mean, it’s pretty close but this is the point where Jim Carrey’s character from Dumb and Dumber shows up. (I’m telling you there’s a chance.)
With the Canadiens playing well once again, they are starting to make me take a closer look at those standings. It is really difficult to see them getting a wildcard berth as there are just too many teams to pass, all of whom have played less games.
The only chance, as slim as it may be, is to leapfrog the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs in the next two months. Both of those teams have been suspect defensively, and they both face the Habs twice in the coming weeks.
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If the Habs can win those games, and play really well the rest of the season (at the very least avoid a third eight game losing streak), while the Leafs and Panthers stumble a bit, we could see the Canadiens surprise everyone and finish third in the Atlantic Division.