Sport Constant changes, depth, and Price: How Canadiens were built
NHL playoffs 2021: Breakdown, predictions, odds for Golden Knights vs. Canadiens Stanley Cup semifinal
Everything you need to know about the Vegas Golden Knights and Montreal Canadiens before their 2021 Stanley Cup semifinal series.Fleury and his crew advanced to the semifinals after a hard-fought Game 7 win against the Wild in the opening round and what some may call a surprising second-round series win over the Avalanche. They did lose the first two games in Round 2, so that would have been a fair assessment before the puck dropped for Game 3; however, let's also remember that while Colorado won the Presidents' Trophy, it only did so thanks to a win in the last game of the regular season and because it held the tiebreaker (regulation wins) over Vegas.
It’s settled: the Tampa Bay Lightningthe Montreal Canadiens in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final. So, how did each team get here? After , let’s move on to the Canadiens.
When it comes to judging how the Lightning were built, people can gripe about luck and LTIR, but almost everyone would agree that they’re the most well-run franchises in the NHL. Probably in all of sports. That opinion likely wouldn’t waver — people generally felt highly about the Lightning even after that shocking Blue Jackets sweep.
But the Canadiens and GM Marc Bergevin? Your opinion of their team structure, and his work as GM, might change as often as they once went through centers.
Golden Knights’ Game 2 push falls short; Canadiens tie series
Montreal won despite seeing a 3-0 lead shrink to 3-2.Clearly, Jeff Petry makes a difference for the Canadiens, including in Game 2. Now consider it essentially a “best of five” series between two teams with interestingly intermingling styles.
Bergevin’s seemingly been on the hot seat so often, you almost wonder if his stylish suits require heat-resistant pants. Yet, about nine years after leaving the Blackhawks to GM the Canadiens, here he is: the architect of a 2021 Stanley Cup Finalist.
Through the good and the bad, let’s give the Bergevin-era Canadiens this much: they’ve almost always been entertaining. It’s also been confusing charting the twists and turns, with Bergevin sometimes looking brilliant, and other times looking lost.
Let’s review how the Canadiens have been built.
Bergevin’s Canadiens: not afraid of change
There’s a quote attributed to Mark Twain that feels appropriate to how Marc Bergevin built, rebuilt, and re-rebuilt key elements of the Canadiens. “If you’d don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.”
Lehner shines as Golden Knights beat Canadiens in OT, tie series
Robin Lehner was the best player on the ice as the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Montreal Canadiens to tie their semifinal series.Robin Lehner was the best player on the ice for the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday night, stopping 27 out of 28 shots in a 2-1 overtime win to help them tie their semifinal series with the Montreal Canadiens at two games apiece.
Just ponder the Canadiens’ sweaty pursuit of centers, and you’ll get that vibe.
Fromto to , the Canadiens tried different center alignments. Those pursuits were often fruitless. Credit Bergevin for being willing to move on when that hasn’t worked; Galchenyuk and Domi both are in phases of their careers where they’re fighting for relevance. (Drouin’s still on the Canadiens’ salary structure … for now.)
Truly, it feels a bit odd that Bergevinduring the same season that he fired his head coach. But that’s very much in the spirit of how the Canadiens have been built by Bergevin.
It takes courage to, arguably, keep throwing things at the wall until something sticks. Everything’s coming together well enough that the Canadiens made it to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, and you can’t just chalk it up to dumb luck.
Canadiens take Game 5, now one win away from Stanley Cup Final
The Golden Knights are one game away from being upset after a Game 5 loss.That’s a sentence probably as improbable as any to come out of this year’s playoffs, but following their 4-1 Game 5 win in Vegas, that’s where they stand.
Bergevin earned that GM of the Year nod with a busy offseason even by the standards of an executive who’s addicted to blockbuster trades.
Trades, free agent signings make for a transformative offseason
While some of his moves were polarizing, Bergevin definitely put together a bold offseason of trades, contract extensions, and a brilliant free agent signing.
- He traded Domi for . Time will tell if it was wise to give Anderson a seven-year contract extension with a $5.5M AAV, but he’s served as an upgrade over Domi.
- The Canadiens landed on the sort of bargain free agent deal that justifiably had people wondering what, exactly, Jim Benning is/was doing in Vancouver.
- Bergevin sought out insurance by trading for . Like with Anderson, it remains to be seen if it was smart to give Allen an immediate extension, but the short-term boost was helpful. Allen helped keep the Habs afloat during another dicey Price regular season.
- ‘s a classic low-risk, nice-reward veteran pickup.
- Will ‘s contract look good down the line? Another maybe, another situation where the addition helped Montreal. Frankly, this was one of Montreal’s most surprising successes.
Edmundson was mediocre, if not bad, the previous three seasons for the Blues and Hurricanes:
How the Canadiens shocked the NHL
The Canadiens had the worst regular season record among playoff teams and are now just four wins away from winning the Stanley Cup.Not you. Not me. Probably not even the most diehard Canadiens fans.
Then became a revelation for the Habs ():
Defensemen: they’re confusing!
Price became right
Speaking of confusing, some of the most dramatic changes have revolved around how key, expensive Canadiens have performed.
Carey Price is the most dramatic example. Over and over again, anonymous hockey executives and players. Honestly, this mostly felt like people drinking the sweet nectar of nostalgia.
For three of the past four regular seasons, Price has put up backup-tier regular season numbers (with a strong .918 thrown in from 2018-19). So, yeah, people thought that Price praise was rooted in more than a bit of stubbornness.
Really, it still feels a little silly to assume that Price just flips a light switch during playoff time. After all, if your $10.5M goalie flounders enough during the regular season, that playoff light switch won’t even be available.
But whatever way you slice it, Price has been spectacular during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and has managed a .933 save percentage or better during his past three postseasons.
It’s one thing for Price to shine in six playoff games back in 2016-17, and 10 contests last year. He’s kept playing at an incredible level through 17 playoff games so far this year, though, validating that praise. His work on the penalty kill, in particular, feels almost impossible.
Stanley Cup Finals 2021: Lightning vs. Canadiens odds, NHL picks, Game 3 predictions from proven hockey expert
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Carey Price's shorthanded save percentage through three rounds of the playoffs is now 95.2%.
62 saves on 65 shots
— Andrew Berkshire (@AndrewBerkshire)
Continuing with a theme from extensions for Anderson and Edmundson, the Price contract might again look like a disaster. But people are understandably puffing out their chests about praising Price now — and can you blame them?
Again, the Canadiens and Bergevin keep flipping the script.
Just look at the– trade. In Nashville, Subban was a Norris Trophy finalists, and made a trip to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. It seemed like a big Bergevin blunder, especially when people depicted Weber as teetering on the edge of retirement?
Now, Subban’s struggling miserably with the Devils, and Weber’s anchoring a defense that befuddled powerful offenses in the Maple Leafs and Golden Knights. Again, defensemen (and the Canadiens): they’re confusing!
Finding those elusive centers
After years of toiling, the Canadiens now look good-to-great down the middle. It took Bergevin plenty of tries, but those might be where he’s been the most successful (beyond getting Toffoli at a better-than-Costco price.)
- Facing a difficult situation where a trade was necessary, the Canadiens landed and .
- Back in 2016, Bergevin for hugely underrated center , and a 38th pick he’d use to draft promising defenseman .
- It’s not yet clear if , and his development hasn’t just been a straight climb upward. But Suzuki – Kotkaniemi – maybe Danault sure looks like the center group Bergevin’s been trying to build for years.
- He’s not a center, but sure fits nicely with Suzuki. People praised the Canadiens and roasted other teams for allowing Caufield to fall to 15th overall in 2019 when it happened, and that’s only looking sillier today. While some of this comes down to blunders by other teams, credit Bergevin with observing what the Lightning and others have too: being willing to ignore size questions for skill. Caufield, essentially, is a less extreme version of not going in the first round.
Canadiens built to be deep, structured
A year from now, we might not feel as strongly about what Bergevin has built than we do heading into the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.
Examining potential Game 4 changes for the Canadiens
With the Montreal Canadiens facing elimination it might be time to consider some roster changes for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.They need to win four games in a row.
Will Montreal survive what could be a buzzsaw Atlantic featuring the Lightning, Bruins, Maple Leafs, and Panthers? Can Carey Price carry over this postseason run into above-average play during the regular season? For all Montreal’s done well reaching the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, they’ve frequently won by small margins. That style of play might still leave them where they’ve been in recent years: on the bubble.
Yet there’s plenty to like, too. This is a team that’s been an analytics power for a while, controlling the puck at even-strength. Sure, that’s part of why it seemed kind of unfair for Claude Julien to take the fall mid-season, but maybe they can maintain that style?
(Perhaps that hinges on what happens regarding Dominique Ducharme and/or Luke Richardson?)
Few teams have had the luxury to healthy-scratch someone as good as Tomas Tatar, and basically forget about. But this Canadiens team is just that deep, and just that singularly focused on shutting opponents down.
While Lightning management strikes with precision, Bergevin’s built the Canadiens in more of a whirlwind style. At minimum, it’s made them a more fun team to cover. Lately, it’s made them a tough team to beat.
2021 NHL playoff schedule: Stanley Cup Final
Game 1: Mon. June 28: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN /)
Game 2: Wed. June 30: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN /)
Game 3: Fri. July 2: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC /)
Game 4: Mon. July 5: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC /)
*Game 5: Wed. July 7: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBC /)
*Game 6: Fri. July 9: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC /)
*Game 7: Sun. July 11: Canadiens at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (NBC /)
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James O’Brien is a writer for . Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter .
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Lightning vs. Canadiens score, result: Josh Anderson's OT goal forces Stanley Cup Final Game 5 .
Sporting News had all the action as Montreal sent the series back to Tampa Bay.Shifted to a new line on Monday night with the youngsters' Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, Anderson (the elder statesman at 27), bookended the scoring. His second goal of the night — off a rebound on a Caufield shot that he set up — gave Montreal a 3-2 overtime win and sent the series back to Tampa Bay for Game 5.