The Montreal Canadiens finished the regular season as the worst team to qualify for the playoffs with 59 points. Now, they’re on their way to earning a spot in the Stanley Cup Final.
How did they do it?
A coaching change
The Canadiens got off to a hot start in 2021 but quickly stalled. Their struggles in February led to a coaching change, as head coach Claude Julien was fired and assistant Dominique Ducharme took over on an interim basis.
A pause and a sprint
Every professional sports team’s worst nightmare in 2021 is a COVID-19 outbreak. The Canadiens had one. After being forced into a pause in late March, Montreal played 25 games across 43 days between March 30 and May 12, with Carey Price, Shea Weber, Brendan Gallagher and Ben Chiarot battling injuries, as well. It was a sprint, but the Canadiens survived.
Three important trades
Prior to the NHL trade deadline, the Canadiens added to their depth. They acquired Eric Staal, Jon Merrill and Erik Gustafsson in exchange for a prospect and four draft picks. These three players have become core factors in the Canadiens’ postseason run.
The youth movement
Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi have bright futures. It just so happens their futures are now. The youth movement has arrived, and this trio has added another element to the Canadiens offense, one that scored 156 goals during the regular season.
After finishing the season 18th in the overall standings with 59 points, the Canadiens earned a matchup with the top-seeded Maple Leafs in the first round. Montreal fell down 3-1 in the series, but rattled off three consecutive victories to pull off the comeback and advance to the second round.
The Jets stood between the Canadiens and a trip to the NHL semifinals. They did not stand for long. In a series that featured a devastating check by Mark Scheifele and an overtime in Game 4, the Canadiens swept the Jets and moved on.
Another coaching change
Things got even crazier in Montreal. After advancing to the NHL semifinals and earning a duel with the Golden Knights, Ducharme was diagnosed with COVID-19 prior to Game 3. Assistant coach Luke Richardson has taken over.
An elite penalty kill
The Canadiens have been perfect on the penalty kill for most of the postseason… literally. They have not allowed a power-play goal in the past 12 games, the longest streak in the playoffs since the NHL began recording this statistic in 1933-34. They have killed 28 penalties during that time.
One win away from a Stanley Cup
Now, the Canadiens monumental run is almost coming full circle. After winning Game 5 in Vegas, the Canadiens are just one win away from their first Stanley Cup appearance since 1993. If they can pull it off, it would be one of the most historic runs in NHL history.