The Biggest Surprises for Montreal Canadiens in 2014 NHL Playoffs

Brandon DuBreuil@@brandondubreuilContributor IIIApril 29, 2014

The Biggest Surprises for Montreal Canadiens in 2014 NHL Playoffs

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    The Montreal Canadiens had a somewhat surprising start to the 2014 NHL Playoffs. Beating the Tampa Bay Lightning wasn't such a shock, as the teams finished just one point apart in the regular-season standings. But sweeping them in four straight games was far from expected.

    The Habs are now in the middle of a long wait before the second round against the Boston Bruins begins. The NHL has yet to announce the schedule. 

    Each year during the NHL Playoffs, there are some surprise players that turn heads around the league. Looking back on Round 1, the Canadiens are no different. They got great play from everyone, but a few stood out more than others. 

    Here are the biggest surprises for the Montreal Canadiens so far in the 2014 NHL Playoffs. 

Brendan Gallagher

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    Brendan Gallagher has developed a reputation as being one of the feistiest forwards in the league since be debuted in 2013. He works hard every shift and has earned his spot amongst Montreal's top-six forwards.

    So it isn't really a surprise that he was one of Montreal's best forwards in Round 1. It was a surprise, though, that he is tied for the team lead in both goals and points in the 2014 Playoffs.

    Gallagher sniped three goals in four games against the Lightning, tying him with Rene Bourque for tops on the team. Add to that his two assists and he's also tied with P.K. Subban and Lars Eller for the team lead in points with five.

    If the second-year winger had been playing on a line with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty, perhaps this wouldn't be such a surprise. He's expected to score when he lines up with those two.

    But in Round 1 he skated with Tomas Plekanec and Brandon Prust in more of a checking role. It was assumed going into the series that this line would be responsible for shutting down Steven Stamkos.

    The emergence of the Eller line allowed Michel Therrien to play Gallagher's line in more of an offensive role, however, and the move paid off. They had room to skate and capitalized on the chances they created. 

    Gallagher is undoubtedly one of Montreal's hardest-working players, but it's still a bit of a surprise to see him leading the team in scoring after Round 1. Canadiens fans will hope he can keep up the pace against the Boston Bruins. 

Mike Weaver

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    When Mike Weaver was acquired at the deadline for a 2015 fifth-round pick, expectations in Montreal were modest. It appeared that Marc Bergevin was simply adding depth to the blue line in case of injury and that there was a chance that Weaver would spend most of his games in the press box. 

    But Weaver got his chance and quietly earned a regular spot in the top six with quality defensive play. He was the obvious choice to play on the right side of the third pairing when the playoffs began.

    Yet no one expected him to team up with Francis Bouillon and lead the team in plus-minus. But that's exactly what he did, finishing with a plus-five rating in Round 1. 

    For those who don't believe in plus-minus, the Corsi For percentage also supports his play. He finished the series at 52 percent, which is an excellent number for a defenseman with little offensive talent. 

    Weaver was excellent against the Lightning, playing solid defense in just under 15 minutes of ice per night. He did not make mistakes and kept the other team off the scoresheet, which is generally what a coach wants from his third defensive pairing. 

    Bergevin surprised a few by acquiring the undersized veteran at the deadline, but it was Weaver who was turning heads in Round 1. He'll have his hands full against the big, talented Bruins forwards in Round 2, but he's proved so far in Montreal that he's up to the task. 

Francis Bouillon

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    Francis Bouillon spent most of the regular season as a bit of an afterthought for the Montreal Canadiens. He bounced back and forth between the third pairing and the press box, filling in whenever someone was hurt or needed a night off. 

    He did get a chance to play a regular shift down the stretch as P.K. Subban's partner, filling in for the injured Josh Gorges. While he looked OK himself, he clearly wasn't the right fit with Subban.

    When Gorges returned just before the playoffs, it was assumed Bouillon would head back to the press box as Douglas Murray or Jarred Tinordi took the sixth-defenseman spot. But apparently Michel Therrien saw something in Bouillon that the rest of us didn't.

    Therrien made the surprise move to insert Bouillon onto Mike Weaver's left side and it paid off. He was a plus-five in the four-game series while playing 13:57 a night. Not heavy minutes by any means, but still important. 

    Considering how he was used during the regular season, it was a surprise to even see Bouillon in the lineup, never mind the fact that he tied for the team lead in plus-minus in Round 1. 

    It will be interesting to see how long Bouillon lasts on the third pairing in Round 2 against the Bruins. He stands just 5'8" and Weaver just 5'10". The lack of size worked fine against the Lightning, but they might have a more difficult time handling the much bigger Boston forwards. 

    Regardless of what happens against Boston, Bouillon was a pleasant surprise in Round 1. He teamed up with Weaver to give the Canadiens a perfect third pairing. 

Lars Eller

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    What a roller-coaster season it has been for Lars Eller. 

    After beginning the year on Montreal's top line with Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, things went south. Way south, to the tune of 21 games without a goal and being a healthy scratch for a couple games. 

    But then the playoffs began. Now he's tied for the team lead in postseason scoring with five points. 

    Eller played to his first-round draft pick potential for four games against the Lightning, and what a treat it was. He was fast, physical and played at both ends of the ice, shutting down Steven Stamkos in the process.

    Imagine predicting at the beginning of Round 1 that Eller would not only lead the Habs in scoring, but also hold Steven Stamkos to just two goals? Hockey experts would have laughed in your face.

    But that's exactly what happened, which is why he is one of the biggest surprises of Round 1. 

    Eller's return to form is a key factor in the 2014 postseason. His ability to have a similar series against the Bruins will be important in Round 2.

    Boston has four strong lines and Montreal will need to keep pace. That means having Eller, Rene Bourque and Brian Gionta be as good as they were in Round 1. 

Rene Bourque

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    Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don't make, and the old sports adage certainly applies to the Rene Bourque situation. 

    Back at the trade deadline, Marc Bergevin likely would have said yes to any offer from a team willing to take Bourque off his hands. He was playing uninspired hockey and Montreal, after acquiring Dale Weise and Thomas Vanek, were all of a sudden very deep at forward. 

    But Bourque stayed a Canadien and, following a stretch of five straight games in March where he was a healthy scratch, injuries forced Therrien to put him back in the lineup. Therrien evidently liked the way he was playing and decided to roll him out for Game 1 against the Lightning. 

    Bourque responded to his coach's confidence by scoring three times in four games. He looked, at times, like the most dangerous player on the ice, often being confused by fans as Max Pacioretty. 

    He was fast, beating Lightning defenders wide with ease. He was also physical, leading the Habs in hits with 12. He played defense while helping shut down Steven Stamkos and finishing a plus-four. And he also showed that he can still score.

    The four-game stretch in Round 1 was by far the best hockey Bourque has played since being acquired back in January 2012. He was, by far, the biggest surprise of the series.