The Montreal Canadiens' bubble has been popped.
Few people expected the Canadiens to get to the Round of 16, but after beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 12-over-5 upset, they earned a first-round date with the Philadelphia Flyers -- a team that looked to be playing some of their best hockey following the restart. A bloodbath waiting to happen, right?
Not quite. The Canadiens took the Flyers to six games but ultimately fell short and will exit the Toronto bubble with their heads held high. But where did things go wrong for Montreal? Let's take a look.
Not enough offense
The Canadiens' lack of offensive firepower isn't a new development. They've been hungry for a few offensive game-changers for a while now. They were able to get by the Penguins because Pittsburgh was such a mess on the back end, but it's not entirely a surprise that Montreal struggled to score against a Philly team that is strong at pressuring the puck.
The "not enough offense" claim may look questionable on paper considering the Canadiens actually outscored the Flyers in this series, 13-11. However, look at the series breakdown for Montreal's offense:
- Game 1: 1 goal
- Game 2: 5 goals
- Game 3: 0 goals
- Game 4: 0 goals
- Game 5: 5 goals (1 ENG)
- Game 6: 2 goals
Ten of their 13 goals coming in two games while they scored a total of three in the remaining four games? Not great! As it turns out, they're a much better team when they score goals!
Montreal had a tough time getting anything going offensively for long stretches of this series. At times, the opportunities were there but the finish (or puck luck) wasn't. They actually generated more high-danger opportunities at five-on-five than the Flyers in every game but one (Game 3) in the series. At other points, the Flyers didn't allow the Canadiens to attack in waves or clean up in front of Carter Hart.
Speaking of that man...
Not a bad first career playoff series for the kid, eh?
Even with those two five-goal outputs from Montreal, Hart still finished the series 160-for-171 in shots faced, good for a .936 save percentage and two shutouts. Goaltending analysts love to throw out the word "unflappable" and Hart truly looked unflappable at points. While the Canadiens didn't do the best job generating high-danger chances consistently through the series, Hart was often there to make sure they stayed frustrated even when they did find prime opportunities. He just turned 22 and it's hard not to see why many are calling him the best young goaltender to hit the NHL in a while.
In fact, he might be the most hyped goaltending prospect since Carey Price, who happened to be Hart's netminding idol growing up and the other guy across from him in this series. Price played really well for the Habs but, ultimately, it's Hart who was the standout when the two shook hands at the conclusion of the series, and that had to be a pretty damn surreal moment for the Flyers goalie.
Just not ready yet
Come on, let's be honest ... the Canadiens didn't really deserve to be here at all. This is a team that had 19 regulation wins in 71 regular season games and made it into an expanded 24-team playoff as the 24th seed. They put up a better fight than I expected them to -- heck, I wasn't even sure if they were going to win a game against the Penguins in the play-in round -- but this isn't a team that's ready to be a legitimate Cup contender just yet.
They gave the Flyers a good fight -- and proved to be a chippy, annoying challenger -- but they're going to need some time (and work) before they're truly ready to make a run and beat teams that are as deep as Philly. The roster still needs some work but this is a team that now has a promising core with forward momentum, a solid prospect pool, significant draft capital and financial flexibility. They showed a little bit of something this postseason and they belong on your radar.
If you had told me that this Canadiens team would lose their coach as well as one of their leading goal scorers in this series, I would never have imagined they played as well as they did. Claude Julien was hospitalized for chest pains after the Habs' Game 1 loss to the Flyers and he missed the rest of the series. Then, Brendan Gallagher, who co-led the Canadiens with 22 goals this season, was knocked out of the series after having his jaw broken in Game 5.
Julien is one of the league's most respected coaches and was a big reason why Montreal got into the Round of 16 to begin with. Gallagher is not only one of the better finishers on a team with not a lot of scoring or depth, he's also a heart and soul guy on that club. So it's hard to look at those two very unfortunate departures and say that the Canadiens wouldn't have had a better shot in this series had those guys stuck around.
Not enough offense (or puck luck)
Again, they scored three goals in the four games they lost. Obviously, losing Gallagher for Game 6 didn't help but, I mean, you're just not going to win a playoff series against good teams when your offense is that anemic and inconsistent. They have to go out and get some scoring help and pad the roster with some depth.
Also, and this is a hard thing to quantify, but it felt like the Flyers got pretty much every single bounce in this series. Sometimes that's just the way it goes.