The Wraparound: What’s driving Canadiens unlikely playoff run?

The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2021 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

When the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs began the Canadiens were mostly an afterthought. They had the NHL’s 18th best record in the regular season (worst among all playoff teams) and were below two teams that missed the playoffs in the league-wide standings (Stars and Rangers).

The first-and second-place teams in the North Division were 18 and 13 points ahead of them respectively, and they were backing into the playoffs on a horrible slump. They lost their final five regular season games, which was part of a 23-game stretch where they won only eight games. Of those eight games, only six of them were in regulation.

Nobody would have blamed you if you had completely written them off as a challenger in the North playoffs, let alone as a potential Stanley Cup Final team.

Yet, here they are. They open their semifinal series against the Golden Knights on Monday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN / Peacock) looking to reach their first Cup Final since 1993 and continue one of the more unlikely and improbable playoff runs in recent memory. Let’s take a quick look at what is driving this success.

[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It all begins where most things do in the playoffs — with the goalie.

While Carey Price‘s overall performance in recent years has slipped a bit with age, he is still perfectly capable of going on one of those runs where he can put his team on his back and carry it. He has done exactly that in the playoffs, entering the semifinals with a .935 save percentage that was tops in the NHL through the first two rounds.

If you look at just Montreal’s seven-game winning streak that began in Game 5 against Toronto, when it was facing elimination and a 3-1 series deficit, that save percentage climbs all the way to .943. He has allowed just 12 goals during those seven games. It does not matter what the rest of your team looks like. It really does not even matter how the rest of your team even plays. When you get that sort of play from your goalie, you are going to win a lot of hockey games.

But he is not the only factor in their success.

Do not overlook the return of forward Brendan Gallagher who missed the last month of the regular season. Gallagher is the Canadiens’ best all-around forward and a major difference-maker for them when he is in the lineup. He is an elite possession-driver, scores at a 30-goal pace over 82 games, and can impact the game in a variety of ways. They are a different team when he is out of the lineup, and his return for the playoffs has been a significant development, even if he only has two goals and two assists in his 11 games. He is still an outstanding defensive player and play-driver.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 schedule, TV info]

You also have to look at the play of free agent acquisition Tyler Toffoli. After a great regular season showing that saw him finish in the top-five in the league in goals he is Montreal’s leading scorer in the playoffs and has continued to be one of the best free agent bargains of the year. He is one of five different Canadiens to have scored at least three goals so far this postseason.

There is also the development of second-year forward Nick Suzuki. He was one of Montreal’s most impressive players in the playoffs a year ago, and he has been able to build on that year in his second season. He was the focal point of the trade that sent Max Pacioretty to Vegas a couple of years ago, and when combined with the contributions of Tomas Tatar that trade has worked out exceptionally well for both teams.

MONDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 1: Canadiens at Golden Knights, 9 p.m. ET – NBCSN / Peacock (livestream)

TUESDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 2: Islanders at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NYI leads 1-0) – NBCSN / Peacock (livestream)

Scroll Down For: