The Montreal Canadiens were one of just five teams to win at least 50 games this season, and thus have legitimate hopes of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup for the first time since 1993.
But is this a championship team?
“Well, I see one brewing,” NBC Sports NHL analyst Jeremy Roenick said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “And mainly because they have the best goaltender this past season in Carey Price, who will most likely win the Hart Trophy as the Most Valuable Player. When you have a team that works as hard as they do, as fast as they are, they’re going to be very difficult to beat.”
But forget about winning the Stanley Cup. Montreal must first get by Ottawa (43-26-13), which went 6-2-2 in its final 10 games of the season. The Canadiens host the Senators in Game 1 on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.
“Ottawa is playing as well as anybody in the league to get in the playoffs,” Roenick said. “And these two teams – obviously the rivalry between them – is going to be extremely heated like it was a couple seasons ago. So this is going to be tough. It’s going to be tough for Montreal.”
Roenick has admired the play of Ottawa goalie Andrew Hammond, who, in his first NHL season, has allowed just 1.79 goals per game – this after allowing more than three goals per game in the minors.
“I love him,” Roenick said. “Got to love him. Don’t you just love the stories where people rally around a player or an idea or just an event or something that’s going on? Hammond coming up and playing as good as he has (is an incredible story). He gives Ottawa – not only the team, but the city – a lot of excitement, ad now because of it, a playoff berth. I think it’s been fantastic.”
Roenick was asked just how heated the rivalry between the Canadiens and Senators really is. How much angst is there?
“There’s a lot,” Roenick said. “Boston/Montreal is big. Chicago/St. Louis is big. Toronto/Montreal and Ottawa/Montreal are probably some of the biggest rivalries in the game. I said it a couple years ago. These two met and it got so heated, so many fights, the coaches were going at it, the coaches were complaining at each other – it was really a fun series to watch, and Ottawa came out on top. So I’m sure Montreal is going to want to have a little revenge this time.”
Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference, the Islanders and Capitals also open the playoffs Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET. The Islanders won 47 games this season – their most since 1983-84 (50) – but they also went 4-7-3 in their last 14 games.
“It’s been a good story for the Islanders this year,” Roenick said. “They work hard, they’re fast, they’re energetic. But to come into the playoffs sputtering the way they have – and their goaltender (Jaroslav Halak) . . . has been very, very inconsistent and shaky – I’m a little worried about this team. The Washington Capitals . . . have had a very solid season. (Braden) Holtby, I think, has a chance to get on the ballot for the Vezina Trophy, that being the best goaltender in the game. But I think a lot is going to depend on if Halak can get away from letting in one or two of these bad, bad, bad, bad goals that he’s been doing in the last few weeks leading into the playoffs. It’s going to be a very, very tight one. I think this will go seven.”