Were The Canadiens Good Or Just Lucky?

by | Jul 13, 2021 | Soapbox | 12 comments

Are the Montreal Canadiens a stronger team than we thought, or did they just get lucky and go on a five-week hot streak?

The Canadiens enjoyed an impressive run in the 2021 playoffs. The lowest overall postseason seed, they upset the heavily-favored Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and Vegas Golden Knights to reach the Stanley Cup Final.

They came a cropper against the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, falling in five games. However, the clubs the Habs eliminated wouldn’t have fared any better against the powerful Bolts.

The Canadiens’ playoff success papered over the fact they barely qualified in the first place.

They cooled off after a hot start, replaced most of their coaching staff by midseason, saw starting goalie Carey Price endure one of the worst regular seasons of his career, endure a 25 game in 44-night second-half stretch following a COVID-19 outbreak, lost playmaking winger Jonathan Drouin for the remainder of the season for personal reasons, and endured a shaky stretch drive with Price, captain Shea Weber and alternate captain Brendan Gallagher sidelined by injury.

Little wonder no one gave them a chance of defeating the Leafs, Jets and Golden Knights in each successive round. And yet, they defied the critics and overcame the odds.

Montreal Canadiens pose with the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl (NHL.com).

But which team are the real Canadiens? The one that took their fans on a dazzling run that came within three games of the Stanley Cup? Or the one that stumbled through a shortened season and backed into the playoffs?

On the one hand, the Habs seemed to finally adjust to interim coach Dominique Ducharme’s system in the postseason. They played a strong team game with an emphasis on solid defensive play, quick zone transitions, and in-close scoring chances. Their penalty-killing was the best throughout this postseason.

Price bounced back, reminding everyone why he’s still among the best goalies in the game. Weber, Jeff Petry, Ben Chiarot and Joel Edmundson formed a solid top-four defense that cleared traffic from around Price’s net and took away the opposition’s scoring lanes.

Young forwards Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Jesperi Kotkaniemi continue to blossom into future stars. Josh Anderson provided size, speed and clutch scoring. Tyler Toffoli was strong at both ends of the rink. Phillip Danault was superb in a shutdown center role. Greybeards Corey Perry and Eric Staal provided invaluable depth experience and leadership.

On the other hand, Price admitted he didn’t play well during the first three games against the Lightning. Anderson’s scoring was inconsistent for most of the playoffs. A thumb injury robbed Weber of his fearsome point shot. Alexander Romanov’s limited postseason appearances raised questions over Ducharme’s faith in the promising defenseman. The power play often looked like they were playing with a live grenade.

So, are they an emerging Stanley Cup contender or an overachiever that crashed to earth in the Final?

Marc Bergevin was a finalist for GM of the Year, which for some weird reason is voted on following the second round of the playoffs. He wouldn’t have even been among the candidates had that vote occurred following the regular season.

The Canadiens’ playoff run probably saved Bergevin’s job (should he still want it) and should remove the interim label off Ducharme’s title. Having gotten their team to the Final, can they avoid the pitfalls that doomed many Cup Final underdogs of the past?

Everything depends on several factors.

Bergevin was able to use plentiful cap space to add Toffoli, Anderson, Perry, Staal, Edmundson and backup goalie Jake Allen. Making similar acquisitions won’t easy with a salary cap expected to remain flat for the next several seasons.

More promising youngsters must begin to crack the lineup. Ryan Poehling, Mattias Norlinder, Cayden Primeau, Jan Mysak, Kaiden Guhle and Jordan Harris have to make a positive impression within the next several years.

Price must maintain his strong playoff form throughout the regular season, something he’s had difficulty doing in recent years. The 36-year-old Weber must begin accepting a reduced role as a second-pairing defenseman, allowing Petry to take the first-pairing role on their right side.

Toffoli and Gallagher must remain healthy. Danault should be brought back but that could prove difficult given his earlier rejection of a six-year, $30 million deal. If not, a suitable replacement must be found. Perry should be an affordable one-year signing.

Suzuki, Caufield, Kotkaniemi and center Jake Evans must keep improving and take on greater roles and responsibilities. Romanov must be given more playing time and room to allow for his development. Anderson needs to find the back of the net more often. They need more from Drouin than what he’s given them in the past, assuming he can continue his playing career.

Ducharme must prove he can still make the right moves as he did through most of this postseason. He has to ensure the players still buy into his system. He must also silence critics who feel he’s slow to trust his youngsters given his seeming reluctance to insert Kotkaniemi, Caufield and Romanov into the lineup earlier in this postseason.

Even if all those factors pan out, will the Canadiens be deep enough and strong enough to match up well in an Atlantic Division? Can they compete on an even footing with the powerhouse Lightning, the improving Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators, the still-talented Maple Leafs and still-dangerous Boston Bruins?

Can they do more than just hold their own against Eastern Conference teams like the veteran-laden Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals? Will they be able to handle the rising Carolina Hurricanes, the promising New York Rangers, and the hard-working New York Islanders?

Can they keep pace with the best of the west in the Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche? Or the Connor McDavid-led Edmonton Oilers? The suddenly improved Minnesota Wild?

This year was a heckuva run for the Canadiens but they have a long way to go to prove they’re more than a one-year wonder.


  1. Good overview. They lack 1) scoring power (8 goals in 5 games in the finals), 2) a real no 1 center 3) mobility on defense ie a true qb. Also not sure their prospect pool is that strong. They have many prospects but none that really stand out except maybe Ghule (who played only 5 games last season).
    And they lost a big positive contribution lately in Joel Bouchard. In addition, Atlantic division is going to be real tough next year with Boston, Florida, Toronto and TB.

    No doubt they have the character to bounce back. Lets see what Bergevin will do. But it wont be easy. Not sure they’ll make PO next year.

  2. Lucky and Price. I would take Price over Rask any day of the week.

  3. “Are the Montreal Canadiens a stronger team than we thought, or did they just get lucky and go on a five-week hot streak?”

    The Habs are much stronger than Torontocentric media thought and the luck they had was mostly bad luck.

    Chiarot, Gallagher, Weber and Price missed a lot of hockey with hand injuries and concussion.

    Armia, KK and Evans were concussed as well, though none of the offenders were penalized which oddly may have cemented the group.

    This team was seen in Montreal as greatly improved over last year, built for the playoffs and able to do some damage, a stepping stone year, exactly what it was.

    They could play any way you want, and its what they did 5 on 5.

    A lot of people are distracted by 3 on 3, shootouts and OTL, metrics that are skill competitions not gauges for how good a team is.

    The Habs are built on 4 solid skating lines and a big mobile D.

    A strong 2G in Allen and a Price that excels in the playoffs.

    The young guys have taken a step and it isn’t unrealistic to think they will again, Price. Gallagher and Weber are joined next year by Suzuki, KK, Caufield and Romanov stepping into the future face of the team.

    You don’t get lucky for 5 weeks, you have
    coaching staff that made visible systemic and lineup changes that got results instead of sitting on their hands.

    Ultimately the Habs lost to a team built like them, just better.

    Next year? The parity in the league means nothing is certain other than changes to lineups will be made.

    • Hey I don’t think Lyle was mentioning just the “torontocentric” media, you really need to get over that complex like many here. I recall reading more trash about the Habs from Montreal as well as other cities media.

      That’s the point of this article, F what you were told or herd though out the season, now that it’s over, where the Habs lucky or that good. In my opinion, it’s both, it always is. Like I’ve said in the past, the difference between a great team and a bad team in the NHL is minuscule. What the Habs have proven is what everyone always says: once you get in anything can happen although the odds of what the Habs done are somewhat extraordinary.

      It took them seven games to eliminate the leafs, they swept the Jets – which I don’t know what happened to the Jets, and then it was a seesaw battle with Vegas but eventually figured out how to beat Vegas. When they came up against another team similar to Toronto but a team that had five times the depth that the Leafs had the Habs just couldn’t overcome them like they were a level to with the other teams…which leads me to the question not asked by the article.

      So were they lucky to not have had a full lineup where are the teams they faced missed key contributors like a first line centers in the case of the jets and knights. Toronto not losing their captain in the first game with that series of ended the same way? I think it foolish not to say this eased the road to TB. I think it’s bold (not in a positive light) to proclaim the teams that were dispatched by the Habs would of faired the same fate. We don’t know that like we didn’t know the Habs would of been able to advance like they did.

      Another point that this article hasn’t mentioned regarding the Habs especially for next season is, due to the great work this GM has done, the Habs are now being tagged for overages on their cap for performance bonuses that he put in their contracts of certain players. What this means for the Habs and other teams such as the Islanders (and there’s one other team that got tagged) they will be starting the season with a lower ceiling because of bonuses. Poor management there.

      Like many fans in the hockey world, I can say we’re very happy the Habs lost because we were never heard the end of it for about another five or six years.

      • Did you know that the Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won a playoff series since 2004? Only them, and the Florida Panthers hold this distinction.
        At least the Panthers are building a well rounded team.

  4. It isn’t the physical talent alone that makes a team competitive over an 82 game grind (or a shorter season with the distraction of Covid). Its the cohesiveness of the group; its keeping the average of bad play high enough to lets your stars and goalies steal you a few games, it’s keeping focused on the rink. I think an unnoticed advantage Tampa has had is a more relaxed environment away from the rink than many markets. There are maybe a half dozen media types that follow the team and they are generally non-confrontational. You can take your family to a public place and will be allowed your privacy. Strangely, I live next door to the nanny of one of the Bolts name players, and it is amazing how uneventful life is for them when they go to a park or restaurant, or to the beach. The ability to keep an even keel, avoid losing streaks, not be subject to constant criticism or trade talk or radio talk show chatter is a virtue. When Tyler Johnson was waived for cap reasons, there was an outpouring of fan support (which he rewarded in the playoffs). In many markets the chatter would have been “get rid of the overpriced bum”. I would submit that the laid back attitude in this non-traditional hockey market may be nearly as useful as low taxes in helping the Bolts attract and keep the fill-in talent that helps you win. To me, you should be able to count on the success of a Stamkos or Point. It’s avoiding errors from guys like Luke Shenn, Pat Maroon, and your young players that keeps you away from losing streaks; and at that talent level the issues are more mental than physical.

  5. Lucky. The Canadian division was really soft. Toronto wouldn’t have been the top seed in any other division. Of the 4 teams that made it to the third round, Montreal had the easiest path.

    After eking out a gutsy win over defenseless Toronto, Montreal was warmed up and hungry. Winnipeg was slow to match their intensity and the cheap hit at the end of an embarrassing game 1 took their heart out of the series.

    Montreal did have a good series against the stronger Vegas team, but Montreal won because of Fleury’s game 5 gaffe as much as anything else.

    Great goaltending and defense will always give you a chance in the playoffs, but Tampa had that as well, in addition to a strong offense. That’s when reality set in for Montreal.

  6. The Habs made the finals because they were a deep team who COMPETED.

    At every opportunity they simply out-competed their competition. Price was awesome, but they were built for a run, and they were big, mean, and nasty, with timely scoring from the kids.

    With 11 picks in this year’s draft, they didn’t sell the farm to go on this run either. Quite the opposite.

  7. Jabs never got lucky can’t be lucky for that long but I can’t see them making playoffs this year. We’re lucky to be in playoffs but played well for three weeks.

  8. “Marc Bergevin was a finalist for GM of the Year, which for some weird reason is voted on following the second round of the playoffs. He wouldn’t have even been among the candidates had that vote occurred following the regular season.”

    I said this when they announced he was a finalist and got roasted here for it because I included an article from the M.Gazette that was written by an author that wasn’t respected by the people who didn’t like it.

    I still feel the same way and it’s nice to see Lyle, a Montreal fan, point this out as well.

    • TheFlyingV,

      You’re obviously entitled to your opinion and discussing them openly is fun, we learn from others right?

      It was pointed out to you that you were using a source that most Hab supporters in Montreal can’t stand for his regular click-bait articles.

      Almost daily rants about Bergevin needing to be fired and the “awful” Subban trade.

      If the Habs won the Stanley Cup, he’d have an article about needing to fire Bergevin for losing the AHL coach or poor cap management.

      I wouldn’t call it roasting as much as informing you that you unwittingly used a dubious source.

      If you felt I was roasting or insulting it was never my attention and I apologize.

  9. It was still my opinion. The article I quoted summed up my opinion but what you are saying is my opinion is wrong because you don’t like that other source? I used it as an example with the points being made but just because you don’t like the source, it doesn’t invalidate my opinion.

    I’m not trying to be confrontational but if I said I like the colour red and I quote an article about why the colour red is a good colour to like but you did not like the author, the argument you would make to me about liking the color red is wrong because the article I post is from a source you don’t like?

    If I didn’t make that article link, 9/10th’s of your dismissiveness towards my point would not exist. And low and behold, it’s not just my opinion…but you are entitled to yours as well.