Wednesday, January 18, 2012

One Last Chance?

There will still be 36 games left in the Montreal Canadiens' season after tonight's matchup against the Washington Capitals, but if the team doesn't get hot in a hurry, their outcome won't particularly matter. The Habs enter tonight's contest with a dismal 42 points in 45 games, finding themselves 8 big points behind those same Capitals for the 8th and final playoff spot, with Washington also holding a game in hand. (Meanwhile, Montreal is just 2 points ahead of Tampa Bay for last in the East, though the Canadiens have 3 games in hand in that "race") The team is running out of track to make up the difference with their only shot at the post-season looking like an extended win streak starting soon.

At this point, the team won't be mathematically eliminated for quite a while, so there is no set date or game that officially marks the end of the playoff dream, but coming off a big win against the New York Rangers and playing against the team they're chasing makes tonight a big one for our boys. I've written a couple of times that in my mind, the playoffs are already out of reach for this season, but hope springs eternal so if they can win tonight, I'll believe in the team getting on the comeback trail for just a little longer. After the 8th place Capitals, the Canadiens have a back-to-back against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs, in 7th and 9th place respectively. A perfect week might put the swagger back in the step of Habs fans who have walked through most of the season with their heads hanging low. The Canadiens look about as healthy as they're going to be, with Brian Gionta likely done for the season and Andrei Markov's return date in doubt given that he still has yet to resume skating. Only Ryan White, expected back after the All-Star game, will provide reinforcements, but while he'll be a welcome addition to the fourth line, he won't be the difference maker to the team's season. But if they can get strong play from newcomer Rene Bourque (who will be a marked man tonight after a hit on Caps' Niklas Backstrom landed him a 5-game suspension) and consistent effort from the likes of Tomas Plekanec, Max Pacioretty, and Lars Eller (I leave Erik Cole and David Desharnais out of this sentence as they've been the team's top forwards for most of the season and thus should be expected to keep performing), getting hot isn't out of the question. And then maybe, just maybe, if and when Markov does return, the team finds a way to squeak into the playoffs thanks to a dominant second half.

Of course, the opposite is true as well. A loss tonight would put the Habs 10 points out of 8th with the Capitals still holding a game in hand. Should this happen, the only games I'll have circled on my calendar are those against the Leafs, hoping that Montreal can do its part to extend their playoff drought.

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