Five Keys to the Game: Habs-Rangers #1
Face off: While the second round featured the blockbuster goaltender matchup of Carey Price versus Tuukka Rask, the third round will offer a similar duel. Henrik Lundqvist (2.36 GAA, 0.920 save percentage) and Price (2.32 GAA, 0.927 save percentage) have both been extremely stingy in the 2013-14 regular season. Though Price was better in the regular season, Lundqvist has allowed fewer goals in the playoffs (1.99 GAA to 2.15 for Price). Though the pair did not meet in an NHL game this year, they did go head-to-head at the Olympics, where Price’s Team Canada bested Lundqvist’s Team Sweden 3-0 for the gold medal in Sochi.
Red dawn: After finishing 21st in the league in goals for in the regular season (2.55 per game), the Habs found another gear in the postseason. So far, the team has averaged 3.27 goals for per outing, good enough for first overall among all playoff squads. The Canadiens have also done well at preventing goals and currently sit fourth with 2.36 average goals against. With that kind of goal differential, it’s hard not to like one’s chances!
Nip and tuck: It will remain to be seen whether the Montreal-New York series will be a high-scoring one or a defensive battle. The teams’ 2013-14 season meetings tend to suggest the latter possibility, as both sides have only combined for four goals in three regular season matchups. The 1.33 goals scored per game pales in comparison with the offensive output in Montreal-Ottawa (8.20 goals) or Montreal-Toronto (7.00) games this year. Then again, it’s the playoffs, so you never know.
Chipping in: In sports, you often hear that defense wins championships. That’s particularly true in hockey, especially when your club boasts an offensively-gifted group of rearguards like the Canadiens. Since the start of the playoffs, the Habs’ defensemen have combined to post 28 points, 12 of which have come from P.K. Subban in 11 playoff tilts. The reigning Norris Trophy winner leads the league in that particular category among defensemen thus far this postseason. For their part, the Rangers’ blueliners have registered just 19 points.
Montreal, Montreal: After being unable to enjoy home-ice advantage during the first two rounds of postseason play, the Canadiens can finally count on the support of the Bell Centre faithful to open a playoff series in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Rangers. While many people believe that the concept of home-ice advantage is overrated, the numbers suggest that it can be particularly impactful when all is said and done. Of the 92 series the Canadiens have started on home ice since the NHL was founded in 1917, Montreal has come out on top 68 times.