When the Ottawa Senators were awarded an expansion franchise, I thought that the Senators and Canadiens would be natural rivals. When the Senators recorded their first win in franchise history over the Canadiens, many thought the seeds of this rivalry were being sewn. It hasn’t worked out that way. Despite being in the same division for 20 years and given their very close proximity, the Habs and Sens just aren’t bitter rivals. You see, this year’s playoff matchup is the first between the two teams, and truly winner-take-all high stakes regular season games between the two clubs have not taken place.
Rivals, you see, are not born out of geography only, but out of hatred, and high stakes playoff match-ups. The Senators’ biggest rival in the last 15 years has been the Toronto Maple Leafs, having met the latter four times in the playoffs over that span. This rivalry has developed a healthy hatred, despite the fact that Montreal is much closer to Ottawa than Toronto, it is the Leafs who Sens fans truly hate – actually “despise” might be more fitting.
Meanwhile with 5 playoff series vs the Bruins since 2002, the Canadiens biggest rival has been the Black and Gold spoked B’s. The rivalry has seen its share of intense and controversial moments, and the teams have a huge hate for each other.
So now, with that in mind, the Habs are unlikely to replace the Leafs as the Sens main rival, and the Sens will not replace the Bruins as the Habs most hated opponent, but that doesn’t need to happen to make this series great. What can develop out of this high stakes, first round playoff matchup is the genesis of a new rivalry for the two teams, and the two fan-bases. Some genuine hard fought playoff hockey can spark a real hatred that will last for future seasons. Let’s hope so, as it’s those types of rivalry games that make the sport great.
Breaking down the Series, I want to look at 3 key match-ups.
The Sens have benefited from great goaltending and defensive play all season long, and it is this strength that has really allowed them to make the playoffs despite the devastating injuries that they have had to suffer through this season. The Sens allowed the 2nd fewest goals in the NHL this season. Craig Anderson was brilliant early on, but also suffered from the injury bug. In his absence Ben Bishop (now with Tampa) and Robin Lehner (Ottawa’s heir apparent), also played very well. Anderson returned in late March and has looked good but not great since his return. The question here is if he can play the way he did in January and early February.
In the Montreal net, Carey Price was having a very solid season until the Habs clinched a playoff spot. At that point, things seemed to unravel for the man that most pundits and analysts are saying should be Canada’s goaltender in Sochi. A 3-goal on 4 shots stinker in Toronto was followed up by numerous tough games over the next two weeks. Now while Price was awful in the game against the Leafs, he isn’t solely to blame for many of the performances that followed, as it seemed the entire team struggled defensively in front of him. However, Price did play better in his last two games, and the team shored things up defensively in their last three leading to hope that the slump ended just in time. The Habs will need Price to replicate his pre-April form if they have any hope to win the series -I think he can do that, for the record.
An intriguing match-up as last year’s Norris Trophy winner, Erik Karlsson, returns to lead the Senators. However, on the Montreal side this year’s Norris candidate PK Subban provides the Habs with their own stud on the back-end. The two young blue-liners can both put up a lot of points, and are both invaluable contributors to their clubs. A personal rivalry between the two could stem from this series and be intriguing to NHL observers for the next decade. With Karlsson not at 100% yet following his achilles injury, the edge has to go to Subban. At the other end of the age spectrum we have the old war horses in Andrei Markov and Sergei Gonchar, in what again looks to be an even match-up. With Raphael Diaz, Josh Gorges, Francis Bouillion and Jarred Tinordi going up against Chris Phillips, Marc Methot, Eric Gryba, and Jared Cowen, we give the edge to Ottawa in depth. Overall, this matchup looks like a wash.
Montreal rode three scoring lines and excellent depth in their top 9 to tie Washington as the third highest scoring team in the league. The depth here is very good, and Brandon Prust who played in the top 9 for much of the year is now on the fourth line. An X-Factor here is centre Tomas Plekanec who plays an outstanding 2-way game and should see heavy minutes against Kyle Turris and Milan Michalek on the Sens top line. Meanwhile the Sens forwards never seemed to recover from the loss of their catalyst, Jason Spezza (and it is doubtful he plays in this series). The Sens were the fourth lowest scoring team in the NHL (and worst out of the playoff clubs).
The Goaltending and defence are close, but it’s Montreals depth up front that gives them the edge. The three scoring lines will be too much for the Sens to handle. Montreal in 6 games.
Let’s see what our other writers think:
Mitch Tierney: Canadiens in 6 – Ottawa has been resilient all season but do not have the forward group to defeat the Canadiens.
Russell McKenzie: Montreal’s defense could show up, so could the Carey Price that is dominant, I’m banking on the alternative. The newly healthy Senators will be too much to hamdle in the end. Ottawa in 7
Max Vasilyev: Montreal has strugled as of late, but is the better team here. Still, Ottawa is no pushover and has proven that all season. I am picking an upset here, Ottawa in 7
With that I announce that Max and Russell are no longer part of the hockey department at LWOS, and that Mitch is getting a promotion. (Just Kidding)
Thursday, May 2, 2013 7 p.m. Ottawa at Montreal CNBC, CBC, RDS
Friday, May 3, 2013 7 p.m. Ottawa at Montreal CNBC, CBC, RDS
Sunday, May 5, 2013 7 p.m. Montreal at Ottawa NBCSN, CBC, RDS
Tuesday, May 7, 2013 7 p.m. Montreal at Ottawa CNBC, CBC, RDS
*Thursday, May 9, 2013 7 p.m. Ottawa at Montreal CBC, RDS
*Saturday, May 11, 2013 TBD Montreal at Ottawa CBC, RDS
*Sunday, May 12, 2013 TBD Ottawa at Montreal CBC, RDS
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