First Round Prediction: Habs in Six

As a lifelong Montreal Canadiens fan, I am terribly biased that they will upset the Boston Bruins. However, I have also witnessed several first round upsets over the last ten years by Montrael. Going back to the Bruins teams that Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov were a part of, Montreal upset Boston as an 8th seed in 2002 and as a 7th seed in 2004. Who can forget last year, when Montreal eliminated the 1st and 2nd seeds Washington and Pittsburgh, as a lowly 8th seed.

This year the Canadiens are a 6th seed. Their season record against Boston was 4 wins and 2 losses. I think the one lopsided loss (7-0) and the Zdeno Chara-Max Pacioretty incident have left a skewed memory and expectation in people's minds.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"861","attributes":{"alt":"Price Thomas to battle again","class":"media-image bordered-margin-right"}}]] recently showcased a computer simulation that predicted that Boston would win the Stanley Cup. They also had the highest predicted first round winning percentage of any simulated matchup, at something around 98%. What was even more incredible was that Montreal was given a 0.001% (that's of one percent) chance of winning the Stanley Cup. That is absolutely ridiculous. I am not saying that they will win the cup (it would be nice). However, I would give them much higher odds. Maybe off the top of my head, 1 in 20 or 1 in 25. So 4 to 5%. That is 4000-5000x times higher than the simulation.

To get a grasp at how awful I find that prediction, look at it the following way: If you bet $1 on Montreal to win the cup and they did, you would win $100,000. No bookie in the world would offer that up, so I think the simulation has some obvious flaws. As a sports fan, I know that nothing is ever written in stone. Recently the local WHL franchise, the Saskatoon Blades had their best season ever and were first in the league in the regular season. Yet, they got swept in the second round yesterday.

What was even more surprising to me was how many respectable hockey analysts are in complete agreement that Boston will win the series. Yes Boston are a bigger team physically, but that alone does not determine a series.

Here are some components and who I think has the edge:

Speed: Montreal.

Size: Boston.

Special Teams: Montreal. Kirk Muller's guidance over the last few years has made the Canadiens phenomenal penalty killers.  PK Subban, Mike Cammellari, Brian Gionta pack a punch. Zdeno Chara's shot and some big Boston forwards are also dangerous on the PP.

Forwards: Boston (slightly). Milan Lucic was the top scorer for the Bruins, but only 39th overall in the league with 62 pts. Tomas Plekanec was the Canadiens top scorer, but only 58th overall with 57pts. Boston has more offensive depth, but Montreal has Cammellari, Gionta and Scott Gomez who have the potential to have key goals. Boston does also boast Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron and the veteran Mark Recchi.

Defense: Montreal (slightly). Boston has Chara and Tomas Kaberle. But I am impressed with Montreal's defensive depth. They have a solid combination of skill and experience. Jaroslav Spacek had a great first round series last year against Alexander Ovechkin. Subban is a smooth, gifted skater. Pickups James Wisniewski and Brent Sopel have an offensive side, while Roman Hamrlik and Hal Gill are hulking physical bodies. If Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges can come back later down the road, that would give Montreal a very, very strong defense in my opinion.

Goaltending: Montreal (ever so slightly). Both goalies are extremly good and have had tremendous seasons. We all remember what Jaroslav Halak did for Montreal last year. Conversely, Price has struggled his last couple of playoff series. However, Price is a goalie bred for greatness. The winning goalie for a World Junior championship team and later an AHL championship, he may have some off seasons, but he is no flash in the pan. 

A goalie can singlehandedly win a series. I remember several years ago Patrick Lalime having three shutouts in a playoff series. Lalime was an ok, but not great goalie. But both Price and Tim Thomas are playing great this season and are key factors in who moves on to the next round.

I have a gut feeling that Price will win the series for Montreal. I like Thomas, but he is an emotional player. If frustration starts, combined with last years playoffs horrific collapse to Philadelphia, expect bandwagon jumpers to come back to the Canadiens side.


As you can see, I think the series is fairly evenly matched and will be fun to watch. My prediction is that like the regular season, look for Montreal to go 4-2.

Canadiens in six!