The Montreal Canadiens became the first Canadian NHL team to clinch their playoff position over the weekend. The Habs were also the first NHL team to hit the 100 point mark in what has, so far, been a very successful 2014-2015 campaign.
No Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since the Habs last managed it in 1993. Montreal’s storied franchise was also the only Canadian team to make the playoffs last season; a disappointing fact for the majority Canadian hockey fans. This season, they won’t be alone, with five possible teams, including the Vancouver Canucks who are all but a sure bet at this point, within reach of a post-season berth.
Here’s a look at the Eastern Conference playoff picture going into the final stretch:
The Canadiens clinched their third straight playoff appearance on Saturday night thanks to Max Pacioretty’s winning goal in a 3-2 overtime victory against the Florida Panthers.
The team currently sits atop the Eastern Conference with 102 points and are 2nd overall in the NHL. With 6 games left, and 3 at the Bell Centre, the Habs main goal will be to stay healthy and fix their struggling power play.
The Habs host their new nemesis, the Tampa Bay Lightning, on Monday and face the Washington Capitals on Tuesday. These are the two most important games of the rest, since, as it stands, the Habs are poised to meet the Capitals in the first round and they have yet to beat the Bolts this season.
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The Ottawa Senators
Once counted out of the playoffs entirely, the Ottawa Senators have made a heroic climb into playoff contention. Thanks to the emergence of goaltender Andrew Hammond, the Senators have won 10 games in March.
However, their desperate playoff push has taken its toll and the team’s recent struggles has the Senators sitting just outside the playoff picture, as of Monday.
Due to their current 3 game losing streak, the Sens playoff chances have dipped to 25% with the Boston Bruins holding a 3 point edge and the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Sens have a game in hand but will need at least 90 points and likely 3 wins in their final 7 games to wrench that spot away from the Bs who are looking for their 8th consecutive playoff appearance.
The Senators’ schedule doesn’t get any easier, with 5 of their last 7 games against top Eastern Conference opponents. They play the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena before returning to the Canadian Tire Centre, for a tough pair of games against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday and the Washington Capitals on Saturday.
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Toronto Maple Leafs
As much as Toronto Maple Leafs fans wanted to believe, their hopes were finally dashed on March 18th when the Leafs were officially eliminated from playoff contention.
With 62 points and 6 games remaining on the schedule the Leafs, in all likelihood, will finish 27th in the league.
In what has been referred to as the Leafs’ worst season in franchise history, the team, at least, will be well positioned for a strong draft in a deep class, and can shore up talent for the future. However, a high draft pick won’t deter fans from acknowledging that there is a lot of work to be done with the current team if the Leafs want to be better before their unnamed draft picks come of age.
In the meanwhile, the Leafs still have three exciting games at the Air Canada Centre before the season comes to a close with games against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, the Senators on Sunday, April 5th, and the Habs to close out their season on Saturday, April 11th.
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With just one team confirmed in the East, there is still lots of hope for the Canadian teams in the Western Conference. Our Playoff Pictures continues tomorrow.