For the 83rd time in National Hockey League (NHL) history, the Stanley Cup playoffs will include the Montreal Canadiens. The playoff position and first round opponent is still to be determined, but Habs fans can begin planning their spring around the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.
On Thursday night, the Canadiens hosted and defeated the Florida Panthers 6-2 at the Bell Centre in Montreal. A few of the struggling Habs this season made their presence known tonight. Tomas Plekanec finished the night with a goal and an assist, along with a +4 plus/minus rating and a 55% faceoff percentage. Brendan Gallagher was dropping points everywhere as he scored his 10th goal of the season and added three more assists. Nathan Beaulieu, who only had 3 points in his last 11 games tallied two assists tonight.
Paul Byron, the waiver pick-up from the Calgary Flames that only has a cap hit of $1.1-million (per CapFriendly), scored two more goals tonight to raise his season total to 22.
It is always a special night when your team clinches a spot in the postseason. It is all the more special when their season ended early the year before. In 2015-16, the Montreal Canadiens started off the season as the hottest team in hockey. That is until a late November season ending injury to Carey Price kicked start the downfall. Having the worst record in the league between then and the end of the season, the Canadiens finished 22nd in the league and missed the playoffs by a double digit amount of points.
However, this season, things are a completely different story.
The list of possible first round opponents are shortening as the season winds down. At this point in the season, most teams only have between four to six games left to play. With a six point lead up on the Ottawa Senators, the most likely scenario is the Canadiens win the Atlantic Division and face the top Wild Card team. This would very likely be the New York Rangers – barring an absolute collapse by the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Columbus Blue Jackets. However, the Rangers are statistically the more likely opponent.
In an unlikely but possible scenario, if the Canadiens absolutely fall apart at the same time as the Ottawa Senators or Toronto Maple Leafs win out, Montreal could fall to the second spot in the division. In this case, the Habs would take on whichever of the Ontario teams that did not take their place in the standings. Keep in mind, the Habs have a six point lead on Ottawa and eight on Toronto and both only have six games left – for a maximum of 12 points if one were to win out.
So buckle up Habs fans! It’s almost playoff season!