Stanley Cup Chase: Canadiens' Drive for 25 Very Much Alive

Gabe DCorrespondent IMarch 21, 2008

Last night in Boston, Montreal won their seventh game in a row this season over the Bruins, and tenth in a row dating back to last season.

Alex Kovalev and his talented line-mates danced around an all-star defenseman in Zdeno Chara and an All-Star goalie in Tim Thomas on three separate occasions, all of which made TSN's honour role.

The rookie goaltender Carey Price notched his 18th win of the season and made several highlight reel saves himself.

It is hard to believe that only eight short months ago, hockey analysts nation-wide considered the Canadiens to be down and out. With a slew of inexperienced rookies and the loss of Sheldon Souray, a core component of their top ranked power play, a 12th or 13th place finish was the average prediction given to the Habs.

However, with their impressive play thus far, les Bleu, Blanc, et Rouges have forced all of these "experts" to eat their own words with a generous helping of humble pie for dessert.

A mere seven games remain in the regular season, and the Habs sit atop the East with 92 points. A feat that has not been accomplished this late in the season since Lord Stanley's cup was last paraded down St. Catherine Street in '93.

There is no doubt that the Canadiens are contenders. They've proven that by their ability to play through controversy (Kostopolopus and O'Byrne purse incident), their ability to defeat teams that have always given them trouble in the past (the last time they won a season series against New Jersey they closed out the year by hoisting the cup), and their ability to remain consistent (the only team that has not dropped four in a row this season).

The biggest asset this team carries with them into the postseason however, is chemistry. It is evident when viewing a game, that the Habs have found their groove.

The Plekanec, Kovalev, and Kostitsyn line is a threat for every second they are on the ice. The speedy duo of Grabovski and Sergei Kostitsyn have helped pull Higgins out of his slump. Koivu and Ryder have rekindled the fire that appeared to be extinguished, and the ever changing fourth line does its job every game.

As for goaltending, the rookie tandem of Price and Halak is very inexperienced, but does appear to have what it takes to go deep. Cristobal Huet's leadership will be missed when it comes time for the postseason.

The goaltender was dealt to Washington in a trade that left the hockey world in shock. As a free agent this summer, the rationale behind this move was that they could get something for him now, or let him walk free at the end of the season.

Ultimately, GM Bob Gainey went with the former. It is incredibly difficult to believe that a talented goalie like Huet could only pull in a second-round draft pick when Toronto received a second and a fifth rounder for mediocre-at-best defenseman Hal Gill.

Regardless, Carey Price was left with immense pressure on his shoulders, but if there is any rookie goalie that can handle it, it's Carey.

The 20-year-old has accomplished more in the past two years than most professional hockey players achieve in a lifetime. In 2006-2007 Price received the following (brace yourselves): CHL Goaltender of the Year, WHL Goaltender of the Year, WHL First All-Star Team, Jack A. Butterfield Trophy (MVP of the Calder Cup Playoffs), Calder Cup (AHL Championship), IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship Gold Medal, IIHF tournament MVP, IIHF Top Goaltender, IIHF All-Star Team and most recently the Molson Cup for November.

Needless to say, Price has faced this kind of pressure in the past, and if history repeats itself, he should be very capable of anchoring the Habs throughout the playoffs.

If the playoffs began today, the Canadiens would be playing the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round, a matchup that one has to believe the Canadiens would embrace with open arms. The Habs swept the season series against the Flyers 4-0 outscoring them 15-6.

A large, physical team like the Flyers has difficulty handling the quick and skillful Canadiens. The Habs definitely possess the upper hand in this match-up.

The current alternative to Philly however, would probably be preferred. The Boston Bruins are the other potential team the Canadiens could be facing first and with the long line of dominance the Habs have had over the Bruins, it is a series most Canadiens fans are praying for.

The Bruins play a similar style of game to Philadelphia and are therefore also troubled by Montreal's speed. What puts them at a further disadvantage is the difficulty goaltender Tim Thomas appears to have against Montreal.

The only thing the Habs truly have working against them in the playoffs, is the very same thing that much of their success can be attributed to, their youth. Their are 10 roster players on Montreal who have never played in an NHL playoff game, including both goaltenders.

Although the youth movement has been quite impressive this season, the playoffs are quite literally a different kind of game and truly separate the boys from the men (pardon the cliché).

Despite all of these speculations and statistical comparisons, the Stanley Cup playoffs are home to plenty of upsets and surprises. There is no way of truly knowing what the future holds. I guess we'll just have to wait until mid-June to see if a twenty-fifth banner will hang from the rafters at the Bell Centre.