By Caitlyn Golem, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

(Photo by Minas Panagiotakis, Getty Images)

The Montreal Canadiens, after an injury-riddled season last year, are officially headed to the Stanley Cup Playoffs as Atlantic Division champions. The road to get here was not any easy one by any means.

The season started off with fans being very skeptical. Fan favourite, P.K. Subban had been replaced during the offseason and everyone was dying to find out how this trade would turn out. Shea Weber quickly captured the fans in Montreal, starting the season off on a note that had many convinced of a Norris Trophy if he could keep it up.

Weber was leading the league in plus/minus as a result of his outstanding performance. The team as a whole also started the season on a high note, winning 13 of their first 15 games, the most wins in franchise history through its first 15 games.

Although that may seem like a great way to start off the season, one must remember the 10-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets was during that span. Something that shocked fans other than the fact that the Habs lost 10-0, was that Weber managed to keep an even plus/minus rating while putting up big minutes.

Alexander Radulov’s goal celebrations have been a standout this season, even when he isn’t the one scoring them. Radulov brings such passion to the game, and although I am not sure how much more passion for the game was needed in Montreal, there can never be too much.

Marc Bergevin took a risk signing Radulov considering his past, but it turned out to be the best free agent signing from the summer of 2016. He has managed to so far net 16 goals and assist 35 more. He plays big minutes during important moments and has been a huge part of the Canadiens’ success. Habs’ fans would certainly agree that Radulov’s toothless smile goes quite well with the Bleu Blanc et Rouge.

Another pleasant surprise for Montreal was Phillip Danault’s ability to play big minutes centering the top line. When Alex Galchenyuk was injured in December, there was much uncertainty as to who could possibly fill that gaping hole on the team’s top line. Danault was the answer and has been an unsung hero for Montreal for his ability to fill that gap.

Paul Byron, standing just 5-feet-9-inches, 160 pounds has had a breakthrough season. So far, Byron has 22 goals under his belt this season. That is the same number as Phil Kessel, and more than both Johnathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron. What makes it even more impressive is he is only on his first of a three-year contract with the team, worth just $1.167 million/year.

Speaking of unsung heroes, Max Pacioretty has been a key goal-scorer for the team for the last few seasons.

Pacioretty’s current 35 goals puts him at sixth in the league.

Andrei Markov, may not yet be doing it to the Jagr effect, but he is defying age limitations, and has been doing so for years. He is a key part of the Canadiens’ blue line at 38-years-old. After several knee injuries, Markov playing for so long was questionable for many fans but he just keeps proving people wrong. On March 28th, Markov tied Guy Lapointe for second all-time in points by a Canadiens’ defenseman.

Markov can become an unrestricted-free agent at the end of this season, but we can only hope to see him back in Habs’ uniform in the coming season. Playing his whole career thus far (16 seasons) with the Canadiens, he has become a Habs’ legend. Markov has been quietly surpassing records of all-time greats over the past few seasons; all he needs now is a Stanley Cup.

As for specific moments that stood out this season, the list is endless.

Claude Julien replacing Michel Therrien was a critical turning point for the Canadiens. It may have been hard news for Therrien to be graced with on Valentine’s Day, but it was a move that was seemingly necessary in hopes of success.

P.K. Subban’s much anticipated return to the Bell Centre brought out tears in us all.

The Montreal fans and the city in general mean so much to P.K. and he so much to them. It came as no surprise that his return was an emotional one.

Plus, who could forget Andrew Shaw’s skate malfunction?

This season although not quite over has been a great one. The team has done quite the job bouncing back from falling short of the playoffs last year. How will the year end? There is debate as to whether or not the Canadiens are true Cup contenders, but come playoff time, all predictions go out the window. Anything can happen.

That said, I went ahead and asked some fans if they feel the Canadiens to be serious Cup Contenders:

Daemon Parent shared his opinion, “as far as serious cup contenders, the best systems and the best goalies are always a massive plus when it comes to the playoffs. Montreal is the 6th best defensive team as far as goals against is concerned, and we have Carey Price. AND Claude Julien is one of the best coaches in the game. That’s makes this team a viable contender for the Stanley Cup. Especially when you take into consideration that the Metropolitan division might beat themselves up in the first two rounds.”

Fan, David Gian, had a similar opinion, “I think they can be. I don’t think they’re favourites by any means, but I mean look at the 2012 Kings. They came out of nowhere. I think they have a very well rounded out team. My biggest concern is our blue line, but I think that maybe by rotating our sixth D man (Alexei Emelin/Brandon Davidson/maybe Nikita Nesterov) we can avoid some gaping holes.”

Marc Maisonneuve however disagrees, “I believe not this year, but maybe next season they’ll have a chance to play in the Stanley Cup final with the players they have and Carey Price and Claude Julien game system.”

Finally, hockey fans as a whole were polled on my Twitter and these were the results:

Edited by Donna Sim