5 X-Factors in Montreal Canadiens' NHL Playoff Series vs. Rangers

Brandon DuBreuil@@brandondubreuilContributor IIIMay 22, 2014

5 X-Factors in Montreal Canadiens' NHL Playoff Series vs. Rangers

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    Thomas Vanek needs to find his game.
    Thomas Vanek needs to find his game.Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images

    The Montreal Canadiens have put themselves in a difficult situation in their NHL playoff series versus the New York Rangers. Home-ice advantage is long gone, and they face a 2-0 series deficit in the Eastern Conference Final. 

    Let's be honest: The odds are against a Canadiens comeback. According to NHL.com, teams who trail 2-0 in a series have won just 12.7 percent of the time. It hasn't been done in a conference final since 1991, when the Pittsburgh Penguins rallied to beat the Boston Bruins

    Montreal also has to overcome these odds without their No. 1 goalie, Carey Price.

    It won't be easy, but it's also not impossible. A win in Game 2 makes this a brand new series. Two wins in New York and anything can happen. 

    There are a few wild cards that could help the Canadiens in their comeback efforts. Their abilities to contribute at the front and back ends could translate to Montreal wins.

    Here are five X-factors in the Montreal Canadiens' NHL playoff series versus the New York Rangers. 

Thomas Vanek

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    Thomas Vanek
    Thomas VanekFrancois Lacasse/Getty Images

    Thomas Vanek is one frustrating player to cheer for.

    In one game, he looks like the four-time 30-goal scorer who will command a contract in excess of $50 million this summer. In the next, he completely disappears and it takes until the midway mark of the game even to realize he's on the ice. 

    Recently, it has been the latter as Vanek has played three of his worst games as a Hab. He has no points and just two shots in that span. He's already minus-three in the Eastern Conference Final. 

    When Max Pacioretty, for example, struggles through a goalless drought, he's still easy to cheer for—he skates hard, hits, shoots and creates chances.

    Vanek, on the other hand, looks like he's half asleep on the ice. His compete level drops beyond what would usually be seen in a game of shinny. At times, it seems like he doesn't want to score, like when he passed on a breakaway opportunity in Game 2 (via Adam Gretz of SB Nation). 

    Don Cherry's opinions are usually best taken with a huge grain of salt, but he might be right about Vanek. 

    "This guy's mind is in Minnesota," he said on Hockey Night in Canada's "Coach's Corner" during the first intermission of Game 2 (via CBC.ca). Cherry referred to rumors that Vanek will sign with the Wild during the summer. 

    Vanek was benched for his lack of effort in Game 2, receiving just 11:41 of ice time. Canadiens coach Michel Therrien doesn't seem ready to forgive him just yet, as he had Vanek practicing on the fourth line on Wednesday (via Stu Cowan of Hockey Inside/Out). 

    Unless Therrien was just sending a message, it looks as if Vanek will line up with Daniel Briere and Brandon Prust in Game 3. It's not the best situation for him, as his minutes will be limited, but he still needs to take advantage of his opportunities and create offense. 

    Montreal needs Vanek to score some goals if they hope to come back from this 2-0 deficit. His ability to contribute makes him an X-factor. 

Dustin Tokarski

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    Dustin Tokarski
    Dustin TokarskiBruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Dustin Tokarski was the surprise starter for Game 2, and he held his own in defeat.

    Making his first career playoff start, he turned aside 27 shots and kept Montreal in the game.

    Therrien has decided that he'll go with Tokarski again in Game 3, as reported by Stu Cowan of Hockey Inside/Out. Being an unproven starter, he is instantly an X-factor for at least the next game.  

    It is obvious that Montreal isn't going to score much in this series. Through two games, they have mustered just three goals against Henrik Lundqvist—despite firing 63 shots on net.

    Lundqvist is one of the best goalies in the world and he's playing at the top of his game. Goals will be at a premium for the rest of the series.

    If they're not going to score many goals, the Canadiens can't allow many either. That starts with good team defense, but they're going to need some big saves as well. 

    Tokarski has won at every level, including the Memorial Cup, the World Juniors and the Calder Cup, as noted by Arpon Basu of NHL.com. His impressive resume is why he got the call in Game 2. 

    “We went with him because of his track record—because he’s a winner. He played well,” Therrien said after Game 2, via Jack Todd of the Montreal Gazette

    The track record he speaks of—along with his performance in Game 2—has earned him another start in Game 3. He's an obvious wild card.

    The Habs need good goaltending, and the pressure is on Tokarski to deliver.

Alex Galchenyuk

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    Alex Galchenyuk returned in Game 2.
    Alex Galchenyuk returned in Game 2.Francois Lacasse/Getty Images

    Alex Galchenyuk returned to the ice for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final. It was his first game back since suffering a knee injury on April 9. 

    The 20-year-old Galchenyuk replaced Michael Bournival in the lineup and logged 13:23 of ice time. He registered two shots on goal and was minus-one. He looked quick and made some good passes. 

    Galchenyuk was skating alongside Vanek and Tomas Plekanec, and Therrien likely inserted him there in hopes of getting the other two going offensively. 

    As mentioned earlier, Vanek has been miserable over the past three games, failing to record a point while registering a mere two shots on goal. He's also carried a minus-three rating against the Rangers and was demoted to the fourth line in practice, though he could still play any role in Game 3.

    Plekanec has been even worse in the offensive zone. He hasn't scored since Game 3 against Boston, and his last point was an assist in Game 5. He makes up for his lack of production with his stellar defensive play, but a few more points would be nice. 

    Montreal needs this line to start creating some offense if it hopes to come back in Round 3.

    Galchenyuk becomes an X-factor as the newest member of this trio. His ability to get Vanek, Plekanec or anyone else he plays with to score is a key to the Eastern Conference Final. 

Nathan Beaulieu

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    Nathan Beaulieu
    Nathan BeaulieuBruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The Canadiens need scoring, and Nathan Beaulieu is a gifted offensive defenseman. His ability to contribute on the scoresheet could be a key factor if Montreal is to make a comeback. 

    The 21-year-old made his playoff debut in Game 6 against the Bruins. He was inserted into the lineup in place of Douglas Murray because Therrien wanted more mobility and puck movement. 

    He recorded an assist in his first game and another in Game 7. He has been held pointless so far in the Eastern Conference Final and has an even plus/minus rating.

    Canadiens forwards are going to need all the help they can get from their D-men if they hope to solve Lundqvist. Points are needed—and expected—from P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov, but Beaulieu could be the X-factor on the blue line.

    He has great vision and makes a solid breakout. He also has the ability to spring a forward in alone with a stretch pass, and a breakaway or two would certainly increase the chances of scoring on Lundqvist.

    Beaulieu is seeing time at the tail end of the power play. Since his insertion into the lineup, he has been replacing Markov with about 30 seconds remaining on the man advantage.

    When Beaulieu does see time on the power play, it's because the top unit has failed to convert during the first three-quarters of the penalty. It would be a major boost to the Canadiens if he could score a late power-play goal at an important time during the series.  

    Beaulieu is a young prospect who is just coming into his own as an NHLer. He has the talent to contribute offensively, however, and Montreal could really use a few points from him.

    He's the X-factor on the back end for the remainder of Round 3. 

Peter Budaj

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    Peter Budaj
    Peter BudajBruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Peter Budaj is the final X-factor for the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final.

    Although he won't be starting Game 3, there are a couple of ways in which he can still contribute.

    Budaj is likely quite disappointed not being named the starter with Price hurt, but the Canadiens still need him to be supportive. He can offer advice and share his knowledge of shooters' tendencies.

    Tokarski is a young goalie in a tough situation, and he could use all the help possible. Budaj won't be helping anyone by sulking about not starting.

    It's also entirely possible that Montreal turns to Budaj at some point during this series. A couple of quick New York goals in Game 3 would likely force Therrien to make a goalie change, and if Montreal loses Game 3, Budaj would surely start Game 4.

    If all goes according to plan in Game 3, Budaj won't be affecting the game on the ice. He can still contribute support, however, and needs to be ready to be called upon at any time.

    Thus, he remains an X-factor in this series.

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