Montreal Canadiens: 5 Reasons They Can Make the Stanley Cup Finals
I know what you're thinking.
Before you come to the somewhat reasonable conclusion that I'm delusional, I would remind you that the Habs are still alive (until Tuesday, at least), and them making the Stanley Cup Finals is still a very possible scenario.
Similarly to last year, if the Bleu Blanc Rouge play to their strengths and catch a few breaks, they have the ability to surprise a lot of teams and a lot of "experts."
Here are the top five reasons the Habs can make the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.
5. Mike Cammalleri
Mike Cammalleri is the type of player capable of carrying a team on his back.
In last year's playoffs, Cammalleri led all players in goals scored despite missing out on the final round. He was an offensive machine and demonstrated that he has the ability to turn it up a few notches when it matters most.
This year, he's doing it again.
In five games thus far, he has seven points, putting him in a tie for second place in scoring. He's been dangerous in all five of the team's games thus far and is making his linemates better.
Now playing with Andrei Kostitsyn and Thomas Plekanec, he's an integral part of an extremely potent line that's been causing the Bruins fits all series.
For a brief period in Game 3, Cammalleri was placed with Gomez and Gionta, who were struggling up to that point. He instantly scored a goal, awakened the Bell Center crowd and came about a hair short of leading his team to victory.
No matter who he's playing with, Cammy has been producing.
He is showing everyone around the league that he's a big time player. He's an offensive force and has the potential to lead his team very deep into the second season.
4. The Youngsters Are Flying
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In Game 5 of the Habs' first-round series, Subban played 40 minutes. That's right, a 21-year-old rookie played 40 minutes.
He looked good, too.
Throughout this series, Subban has played like an experienced veteran and has shown no signs of nervousness. Although it's not his first rodeo, this is the first time he's being counted on to lead the team.
He's become Jacques Martin's No. 1 option. He's averaging nearly 30 minutes a night, plays in all game situations and has solidified his role as the engine that powers this team.
He's not the only youngster who's uped his game, either.
Lars Eller seems to have developed overnight. He's been assertive on the forecheck and has been wreaking havoc in the offensive zone all series long.
The game tying goal in game five was due to the sudden coalescence of his aggressiveness and play making ability.
David Desharnais has also been strong so far. The diminutive rookie hasn't looked out of place on the team and was one of their more dangerous offensive weapons in Game 5. He may be the winger the team has been looking for since they lost Pacioretty. Pairing him with Gomez and Gionta could pay off in a big way.
These unexpected contributions could push this team well beyond expectations.
3. A Little Extra Motivation?
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On April 22nd, Carey Price was snubbed by the NHL by not even making the ballot for the Vezina Trophy.
The next night, he made 49 saves on 51 shots and almost stole one for his team.
Price was brilliant in Games 1 and 2 of the playoffs, and after a couple of mediocre games had a spectacular performance in Game 5.
Perhaps he suffered from the same complacency and overconfidence that plagued the rest of his teammates. Maybe he just wasn't feeling it.
Now, it looks like he's back.
Price has shown the ability this year of being able to rise above the critics who sell him short. At the start of the year, he was being booed by his home fans. He had the shadow of Jaroslov Halak hanging over him and only a lifelong backup to fall back on.
Then he went on to wins the most games by a Canadiens goaltender since Ken Dryden.
Now, he's been snubbed by the NHL. Some fans have been murmuring that his Game 3 and 4 performances were rather weak.
A motivated Price is exactly what this team needs. After his Game 5 performance, fans should have confidence in his ability to steal some games and maybe a series.
2. The System Works
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It isn't conducive to offensive hockey. There are very few fast breaks and little in the way of creativity. It's boring and makes for bad television.
And it works.
The Jacques Martin system is one that hinges on forwards coming back to support the defense and making sure that the five men on the ice are within close proximity of each other. In Games 1 and 2, the Habs got a lead, implemented the system and went on to completely shut down the opposition.
The Canadiens have shown that when they play within this system, they are very tough to beat. They have dangerous counter-attacking players (like Thomas Plekanec, who may be the best two-on-one player in the league), and an experienced defense usually positions itself very well.
The Habs strayed away from it in Games 3 and 4 of the first round and paid for it. In Game 5, with the system back in vogue, the Bruins needed double overtime to beat them.
If Martin is able to beat it into his players' heads during practice, the Habs have the ability to stifle their opponents and send some people to the links a lost earlier than they may have wanted.
1. The Top Teams Have Some Big Holes
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After another long regular season, a number of teams emerged as favorites in the Eastern Conference.
After struggling through with a new defensive system, the Washington Capitals were able to claim the top spot in the East for a second year in a row. Despite dispatching the Rangers without much of a problem, the Capitals still have a nagging problem that might just bite them in the you know what.
Once again, they have entered the playoffs with goaltending questions. After riding Holtby down the stretch, the Capitals turned to their early-season starter, Michael Neuvirth, for the playoffs. If the Caps run into a team that can actually pose an offensive threat, Boudreau won't hesitate to yank his goalie at the first sign of trouble.
He did it last year and the year before. They have three young netminders that can collapse at any moment.
Speaking of goaltenders, the Flyers are once again struggling between the pipes. After playing much of the season as the team's No. 1, Sergei Bobrovsky has been relegated to the press box after one bad game.
His replacements, Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton, have been trading poor outings with one another. After the debacle that was Game 5 of that series, I doubt that Flyers skaters have any confidence in their last line of defense.
The Penguins are without their two best forwards and there is no indication as to when Sidney Crosby might come back. They may get past the Lightning, but it's unlikely they'd be able to maintain such a high level of play for much longer.
Finally, although Tim Thomas stole the show in Game 5, he's had as many bad moments as he has good ones.
For every brilliant save, there's been a brutal rebound. The Bruins have also received little offense from their leading regular-season scorer, while Zdeno Chara hasn't had the same zip on his slapshot since the playoffs began.
The Habs have their fair share of problems, but so does the competition. With a little sound coaching, these weaknesses can be exploited. There is no super team this year, like the Blackhawks last season.
The Habs have as good a shot as anyone at this point.