Let’s set the stage. With their win against the Winnipeg Jets, the Montreal Canadiens have secured home ice for the first round of the playoffs. In the meantime, the Toronto Maples Leafs were guarantying themselves a fourth or fifth spot by defeating the Florida Panthers.
PENTICTON, BC. — The Habs are tied in points with the Boston Bruins, who hold the division lead because they have a game in hand. But in the event both teams have the same number of points at the end of the season, the Habs hold the tie-breaker between the two teams and the Habs would then finish second in the Eastern Conference, therefore facing the seventh-seeded team in the first round of the playoffs. The Bruins will be travelling to Washington on Saturday to face one of the hottest teams in the league, and will finish the season at home against the Ottawa Senators, a team starting to get some players returning from injuries, including Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson.
Both the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens have one game remaining, facing each other on Saturday night in Toronto (HNIC and RDS). While the Habs can still hope to win the division, the Leafs sit three points ahead of Ottawa in fourth place in the conference and they have little to lose in their last game… except to send a clear message to the smaller Canadiens.
It is no secret that Habs’ General Manager Marc Bergevin tried to add in some muscle to his team during the season. When the Flyers placed 6-foot-5, 228 pound tough guy Tom Sestito on waivers, the Habs put a claim in but so did the Vancouver Canucks, who got him because they were lower in the standings at that time. At the trade deadline, Bergevin wanted 6-foot-2, 225 pound Ryane Clowe, but he wasn’t willing to overpay and jeopardize the future the way the Rangers did.
Today, the Canadiens find themselves in a very precarious situation: do they keep their line-up intact and try to win this game at any cost in hope that they win and that Boston loses one of their last two games? Or do they sit the core of their line-up to rest them and protect them against Randy Carlyle and his goons?
Many people, myself included, wonder if the Leafs’ strategy won’t be to go after Brandon Prust, who is already nursing a sore shoulder, to take the toughness out of the Habs’ line-up. Would the Orr, McLaren and Fraser of this world dare go after P.K. Subban, Carey Price or Andrei Markov’s knee? Would Dion Phaneuf do what he’s best at, picking on smaller David Desharnais, Brian Gionta and/or Brendan Gallagher? The concern is that the Leafs will try to not only send a message, but also soften even more a Habs line-up still lacking in size and toughness.
To further add fuel to the possible fire, a quote from Twitter:
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) April 26, 2013
This brings back the question: what do the Canadiens do? They only have two choices:
1. They keep their line-up, hope to make the Leafs’ pay for their indiscipline by scoring on the power-play and get the two points in hope that the Bruins drop the ball, hoping to finish second and that the NHL would be smart enough to send experienced referees and to keep a close eye on this game. Seeing how this league is being managed has nothing to reassure Habs’ fans and this comes at a fairly high risk of injuries to key players.
2. Call-up the Black Aces from Hamilton and play them all, while resting the teams’ key players. This includes giving the start to Peter Budaj. This would most likely mean putting a cross on second place and guaranteeing facing the Leafs in the first round of the playoffs, while providing some veterans with perhaps some much needed rest before the gruelling second season.
What would you do?
En français: Pas votre confrontation Habs vs Leafs habituelle