Those were great first-round playoff series we watched the past few weeks. The best teams showed depth, determination and who can win in overtime. This will be the last of the division play-ins before the conference finals. Without further delay, it’s time to decide which team in Canada has the best chance of advancing.
#3 Winnipeg Jets v. #4 Montreal Canadiens
The last two teams in Canada play for a trip to the conference finals. Whoever wins, it’ll affect who faces off in the east or west on the U.S. side.
Winnipeg doesn’t just have Pierre-Luc Dubois and Nikolaj Ehlers back since their last series, they’re more rested and have a better idea on how to attack a Montreal defense that wasn’t tested their last three games. Centers Mark Scheifele, Paul Stastny and Adam Lowry create plays, either scoring in critical situations or extending plays late in periods. Connor Hellebuyck’s played like the Vezina winning goaltender he was last year, with added help from defensemen by Dylan DeMelo and Neil Pionk.
Montreal’s goaltender Carey Price is this postseason’s most valuable player. He rallied the Canadiens back from a 3-1 deficit against a layered Toronto Maple Leafs squad and advanced to the second round. Six goals were scored in the last three games against Price. On offense, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Corey Perry, Joel Armia and Tyler Toffoli are the playmakers who stepped up and scored when Montreal needed it most. Toffoli, Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki have to keep their three game performances going against a Jet defense that’s shut down stellar division offenses.
This series has a gap in coaching. Jets coach Paul Maurice fleeced fans and analysts, shutting down two former Art Ross trophy winners with a stout and bright-minded fourth line. The tactic accomplished a first round sweep. Montreal’s Dominic Ducharme has done a great job pushing the Canadiens to a new level, but Maurice and veterans Blake Wheeler, Scheifele, Stastny, Lowry and Ehlers have been to a conference finals before. They’re in a better position to battle a western opponent such as Vegas or Colorado than Montreal is against a team such as Tampa Bay or Boston.
Prediction: Winnipeg wins series 4-1
North Division first round picks: 1-1