Montreal Canadiens v Tampa Bay Lightning

Pressing question: How will Habs handle carrying Canada’s Cup hopes?


One of PHT’s 10 pressing questions in advance of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs…

The Montreal Canadiens, the most successful franchise in National Hockey League history with 24 Stanley Cup championships, will begin the 2014 playoffs as Canada’s lone postseason entry.

If the notion is true that folks north of the border pin their hopes of the Stanley Cup’s return to a Canadian franchise, then the Habs enter this postseason with the weight of an entire nation on their shoulders. That, of course, is if the notion is true — and there are differing opinions on that.

Do fans across Canada actually and suddenly galvanize behind the one national market remaining in the playoffs?

The Habs, in the historical hockey hotbed of Montreal, might have a long-reaching fan base. But so, too, do other teams in Canada.

Only adding to the intrigue is the fact the Habs are the last Canadian franchise to win a Stanley Cup. That was back in 1993. It’s been a while.

And the odds of that happening again in 2014 are slim, especially with the collapse of the Toronto Maple Leafs down the stretch, the Vancouver Canucks’ fall from grace that began in January and the futility of the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Senators throughout the season.

In 2013, four Canadian teams — the Canadiens, Leafs, Senators and Canucks — qualified for the post-season.

“It’s a little bit strange, but at the same time, it’s not easy playing in Canadian markets,” said Canadiens’ defenseman Josh Gorges, as per TSN.

“On a lot of teams in the States, there’s nothing more to it than going out and playing the game and getting the two points, whereas a lot of times in Canada, you can’t escape hockey.

“No matter where you go, there’s added, outside things that affect your performance. I think we’ve done a good job here of trying to find that balance, but that could, maybe, be a reason why some Canadian teams haven’t been in there.”

The Habs go into this post-season having won seven of their last 10 games while their first-round foe, the Tampa Bay Lightning, are heading in on a four-game winning streak.

Something has to give, as these two teams battled it out for home ice advantage in the opening round with the Bolts emerging the victors.

As in most any playoff series, goaltending will likely be the key to victory. A healthy Carey Price, who finished the season with a .927 save percentage and backstopped Canada to an Olympic gold medal in Sochi, might be enough to get the Canadiens through to the next round.

There also question marks surrounding the health of Ben Bishop, who was shut down for the remainder of the regular season with an arm injury.

This series begins on Wednesday.

While it’s debatable the Habs might carry the championship hopes and pressure of an entire hockey-mad country, getting out of the first round, something they weren’t able to do as the No. 2 seed a year ago, will be the first challenge.

For more Pressing Playoff Questions, click here.

The Panthers are healthy scratching Bolland, and he is their highest-paid forward, but they insist they’re not sending a message

Dave Bolland, Derek Nansen
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It feels like there’s a story brewing in Florida, where Dave Bolland — the team’s most-expensive forward, at $5.5 million a season — has been a healthy scratch for three consecutive games.

But according to head coach Gerard Gallant, there’s nothing to see here. Move along.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Gallant said, per the Miami Herald. “He sat out, our team is playing well. There’s nothing more than that. We have to sit two guys and I like the way we’re playing. The next game is a different game. We may change something up, who knows.”

Bolland had just one goal and five points in 18 games prior to getting parked in the press box. Well, technically he got dropped to the fourth line before hitting the press box, but you get the idea. He’s not exactly in Gallant’s good graces.

Not helping Bolland’s case is the fact that, as Gallant pointed out, the club is playing pretty well without him. The Panthers have rebounded from a rough start to November by winning back-to-back games against the Islanders and Red Wings, which set them up nicely for the remainder of this current five-game road swing.

Florida has games still to play in St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus and New Jersey. It’ll be interesting to see when — or, if — he draws back into the lineup.

In closing, a reminder that Bolland’s in the second of a five-year, $27.5 million deal.

Canucks rookie Virtanen exits with upper-body injury, won’t return


After sitting out Friday’s game in Dallas, Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen had to be excited at drawing back in for tonight’s game against the Ducks.

Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last long.

Virtanen suffered an upper-body injury after playing just 1:45 in the opening frame, and was ruled out of the contest during the intermission. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but it looks like Virtanen was injured on a hit by Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf.

Virtanen didn’t take another shift following the incident, and Getzlaf was given a minor penalty on the play.

While we don’t know what the injury is or it’s severity, losing Virtanen for any length of time would have ramifications for the Canucks and this year’s Canadian entry at the World Juniors. There has been talk of Virtanen possibly being released by the Canucks to participate in the tournament; last year, he was part of the team that captured gold in Montreal and Toronto.

Virtanen has played in 18 games for the Canucks this year, scoring one goal and four points while averaging 10:17 TOI per night.

McLellan sounds off on Oilers after shutout loss in Toronto

Todd McLellan

Edmonton lost for the fourth time in five games on Monday, a 3-0 defeat in Toronto that marked the second time in a week the Oilers have been shut out.

Needless to say, the head coach wasn’t happy.

In a fairly blunt and harsh assessment aimed at a variety of players, Todd McLellan had some choice words for what he called a “disappointing” effort.

Some of the more choice quotes:

“I didn’t think we were a very hard team. I didn’t think we stood over a lot of pucks. I didn’t think we won a lot of battles along the boards. I didn’t think we were competitive enough in a lot of areas.”

“When I look at the trip as a whole, we had some key, key people really under-perform on the trip. Significant minus numbers, not hitting the score sheet. It can’t always be the [Leon DraisaitlTaylor Hall line] that provides that.”

It’s fair to suggest that last one was directed at Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

Nugent-Hopkins has just two points and zero goals in his last five games, with a minus-8 rating. Eberle is pointless entirely, and also at minus-8 over the same stretch.

They’re hardly the only Oilers not pulling their weight at the moment, however. Edmonton has lost 15 times in its first 25 games, a figure that suggests there are more problems that just a couple of underachieving forwards.

Just ask McLellan, who all but admitted his team has issues matching up.

“We’re not where we need to be,” he said. “We’ve got work to do as a team, work to do as an organization to get bigger, stronger, harder, and physically win more battles than we lose.”

Roy: Avs ‘need, expect more’ from Varlamov


The tough times continue for Semyon Varlamov.

After another unsuccessful outing on Monday — allowing four goals on 27 shots in a loss to the Islanders — Varlamov was subjected to a familiar refrain: Patrick Roy saying the Avs need more from their No. 1 netminder.


You can hear all of the head coach’s comments in the video above but, for brevity’s sake, here’s the Varlamov stuff:

“It’s not easy for him. Obviously we need that extra save and we didn’t get it on the road. It’s hard to win if you’re giving four goals on the road.

“We just need more from him. He’s our No. 1 guy and we’re behind him, but we need, we expect more from him.”

There has to be serious concern about Varlamov right now, if there wasn’t already.

His save percentage through seven games in November (.891) is marginally better than it was through seven games in October (.889), and that’s not the only alarming stat. Varlamov’s yet to record a shutout this year, yet to record back-to-back victories and has given up at least three goals in six of his last seven starts.

Not good.

Compounding things for Colorado are the standings. The Avs are now 9-14-1 and mired in the Central Division basement, meaning that — if they have any hope of going on a tear and getting back into playoff content — they’ll need to do it soon.

Which means they might not have the time, or the patience, for Varlamov to find his game.