MONTREAL – How the Bears were slain, and what to expect from the Rangers in the Conference Finals.
Facing the best regular-season team in the NHL, the Habs got over the hump in seven games thanks to superior performances from their most-used and least-used players.
With his team against the wall after Game 5, Carey Price stopped 55 of 56 shots faced in must-win situations to out-duel Tuukka Rask and the Bruins. He now posts a 0.926 save percentage in 11 playoff games this spring, in line with his season rate of 0.927.
Fellow Olympic gold medalist P.K. Subban was tasked with facing the best Bruins forwards and excelled in the shut-down role, not conceding an even-strength goal while on the ice for the last four games of the series. Furthermore, he single-handedly got the Montreal powerplay clicking again with three goals and two assists on the team’s man-advantage unit. Through 11 games, Subban continues to lead the Habs in both points (12) and ice time (26:45 per game).
On the other end of the ice time spectrum are Daniel Briere and Nathan Beaulieu, who only averaged 8:57 and 8:46 respectively against the Bruins. Despite seldom seeing action, both players made the most of their offensive instincts and were key contributors to the Habs’ Game 6 and Game 7 wins. Beyond Briere’s four points in six games and Beaulieu’s two assists in two, both players also posted some of the best puck possession numbers on either team in the latter stages of the series. In Game 7, the Canadiens held a dominant 5-1 shot attempt advantage with Briere on the ice and a 9-3 edge with the Beaulieu-Mike Weaver pairing manning the points.
Red, white and blue
Like the Habs, the Rangers found themselves facing elimination against a powerhouse team before storming back and booking their place in the Eastern Conference Finals.
New York was out-shot at even-strength by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Pittsburgh squad, but rode the play of their third line composed of Benoit Pouliot, Derrick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello to an unlikely comeback. Much like the Bourque-Eller-Gionta line against Tampa Bay, the combination led the team in scoring during the series while compiling excellent puck possession numbers at five-on-five.
Down 3-1 against the Penguins after four outings, Henrik Lundqvist allowed only one goal per game the rest of the way en route to posting a 0.940 save percentage in the seven-game series. He and Price have both performed at All-Star calibre while facing a similar shot volume so far in the postseason, with the Canadiens netminder averaging 29 shots against and the Ranger, 28.6. Like when both netminders faced off against each other in the final game of the Sochi Games, the outcome of the series will likely depends on who could get more goal support from his teammates.
Look for the Habs to dictate the action and play a run-and-gun, high scoring game against the Blueshirts. Montreal leads all playoff teams with 3.27 goals per game scored. Meanwhile, the stingy Rangers have only managed 2.43 goals each game while allowing a league-low 2.14 goals per game.
Special teams made the difference in the Montreal-Boston series, and could set the Habs apart from the Rangers again in the Conference Finals. The Habs are 10-in-38 (26.3%) on the powerplay in the playoffs while the Rangers are only six-in-55 (10.9%). New York does hold a slight edge in penalty killing with a 82.9% success rate (34 opportunities denied) while Montreal has killed off 20 of 25 (80.0%).
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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