Leafs or Sens? Which Match Up Benefits the Habs?

Photo: Global Event Forum

Photo: Global Event Forum

Going into Sunday evening, the Habs potential playoff opponents decreased to two. After a Habs win on Saturday night against the Leafs and a Bruins overtime loss, Montreal can only face the Ottawa Senators or Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Both match ups pose interesting questions for the Habs and neither series would be a walk in the park, as is to be expected come playoff time.

An Ottawa-Montreal match up would be interesting for many reasons for fans of both sides. The return of Erik Karlsson has made the Sens into a threat once again in the East. Getting a defenseman with his Norris calibre play back at this point in the season from injury adds a huge boost to an already frustrating to play against Sens squad. An interesting story line for the series could be the play of both team’s elite defenseman, Erik Karlsson and PK Subban. In the playoffs, teams typically need a sound system that everyone buys into, depth, a good goaltender, a number one defenseman and number one center to compete for a cup. Looking at both rosters, the Sens will likely be without number one center Jason Spezza, for the first round or two if they advance, which is a big loss for this team. Ottawa’s goaltender Craig Anderson has been spectacular this season leading the league in GAA and save percentage putting up an astonishing 1.69 GAA and an exceptional .941 save percentage. Although this was a shortened season and Anderson missed time with an injury, he has to be in strong consideration for the Vezina trophy. Paul MacLean, Ottawa’s head coach has put an exceptional system into place this year and the whole team has bought in. Ottawa has been a fantastic story this year as they were without key players for a lot of the regular season and have show the tremendous depth that their farm system in Binghamton has. Montreal and Ottawa would definitely be an interesting first round match up. I could see the series going either way, but in no way would it be easy for either side. As for my pick if the Habs meet the Senators? Montreal takes a hard fought series in 6 or 7 games.

Now for a Leafs-Habs series, one in which the media would slobber at like a giant piece of juicy steak, reeks of potential. Regardless of how the series played out, this would be one for the ages. The Leafs and Habs would look to renew a rivalry that hasn’t had much spark lately as they havent met in the playoffs since 1979. Unlike the Senators, the Leafs have no number one center on their roster. Although Spezza will not be in action for the Sens, he’s still considered a bonafide number one center and will be missed by the Sens. The Leafs have a solid number one defenseman on their backend in Dion Phaneuf, who although lacks elite hockey sense, is still a very valuable defenseman to his team. Dion carries Toronto’s blue line and averaged 25:10 per game this year while putting up 28 points in 48 games. Nazem Kadri had a great season for the Leafs in Toronto, putting up 44 points in 48 games with a solid +15 as well as playing a pest role. Kadri is as close to a number center as Toronto has right now, which is not a knock on Bozak, but he just doesn’t put up the offensive numbers that are needed for that qualification. It’s kind of interesting to look at as Bozak centers Kessel’s line, an elite sniper and still can’t manage to put up great numbers. As for their goaltending situation, James Reimer had a solid season for Toronto posting a .924 save percentage and a 2.46 GAA. Toronto will need more then solid goaltending to go deep into the playoffs and will need a collective group effort from this young squad. As for how this series would turn out? It could go either way. I’ll take the Habs experience and speed in 6 in a hard fought, emotionally draining battle between these two electrifying rivals.

As for who I’d want the Habs to face? Ideally the Leafs from a Habs standpoint. The Senators can play with the best of the league and with the return of Karlsson can be seen as as big a threat as anyone in the Eastern Conference. The Habs opponent will be determined after the result of tonights Ottawa @ Boston game, where Boston needs a win or the Habs will be Northeast division champs. Either way the Habs will likely have their hands full in round one, but as I’m sure most fans agree with, it’s much better to be talking about possible playoff opponents this year than the amount of ping pong balls our team has in the NHL Draft lottery.

Happy Playoffs everyone!

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