Kukla's Korner

The Upper Canadien

Break out the Van Halen and put the beer on ice, it’s playoff time

It's the most wonderful time of the year. The tulips are sprouting, the birds are chirping...and the snow is falling? Regardless, it's playoff time, and the Montreal Canadiens are getting ready to take on Tampa Bay in the first round. Montreal looks to be a more complete team than they have in at least 6 or 7 years, if not a lot longer. Tampa Bay also look solid top to bottom, and this matchup has the makings of a good series. A quick summary as we get set for puck drop, 23 short hours from now.

Up front:

Tampa Bay has Stamkos. Arguably the most naturally gifted goal scorer in the NHL. Is he at full health? Does he have a partner to dish like Martin St. Louis did? Who cares. This guy can change a game on his own. Beyond the captain, you know the supporting cast well. Ryan Callahan. Purcell. Palat. Johnson. Tampa has more depth than you may think, and they play a strong defensive system. 

Montrea counters with what may be the hottest line in hockey over the past month, as Pacioretty-Desharnais-Vanek lead the way. Their depth is also impresive, as players such as Tomas Plekanec, Brandon Prust, and Travis Moen will be counted on to check the ever-threatening Stamkos. Scorers such as Brendan Gallagher, Brian Gionta, Daniel Briere and Lars Eller litter the second through fourth line. Montreal has the supporting cast necessary to get the job done. But they don't have Stamkos.

Edge: Tampa Bay

On the back end:

Tampa Bay has a strong defensive core, led by Victor Hedman, Matthew Carle and Eric Brewer. However, it gets thin after that, as players such as Keith Aulie, Mike Kostka, and veteran Sami Salo hold down the fort. Tampa's defence isn't exceptionally fast, but they can control the play in their own end, and make a good first pass. Without question though, this is the Hedman show.

Montreal, on the other hand, has a formidable top four, in Subban, Markov, Gorges and Emelin. Subban and Markov provide the offence and steady defence, while Gorges blocks shots like a vacuum and Emelin hits like a beast. The last pairing is a rotation of Mike Weaver, a solid addition at the deadline by Marc Bergevin, and Francis Boullon or Doug Murray. Jarred Tinordi waits in the wings.

Edge: Montreal

Between the pipes

Tampa Bay has Ben Bishop. Vezina candidate. Phenomenal talent. Injured. Will he play this series? Who knows. His injury didn't look good though - it appears to be a shoulder or elbow - and my money is on bakcup Anders Lindback seeing the bulk of the action.

Montreal has Carey Price. Olympic champion. Vezina candidate. Cool as a Chicoutimi Cucumber. The advantage here is obvious given the injury to Bishop, but even if he was healthy, Price is a step above Bishop given his cv and experience.

Edge: Montreal

Derrière le Banc

This is a tough one. Jon Cooper is a fairly new coach. Michel Therrien is the grizzled veteran. Therrien has had a great year behind the bench, but he has appeared to feud at times with the ever-talented PK Subban. He's also got a history of making boneheaded decisions in big games. That said, Therrien seems to have a solid read on his roster, and I suspect he's a straight shooter once the games begin.

Edge: Montreal

So that's that. Agree or disagree, regardless of yoru opinion, the obvious fact here is that these teams are fairly evenly matched. Four games between them this year were essentially all decided by a goal. They each play a solid defensive system. I suspect this series comes down to mistakes, but I also suspect it is over early. If Montreal can win one of the first two and bring home ice advantage back to Montreal, they will very much be in the driver's seat.

Prediction: Montreal in five.

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About The Upper Canadien

The Upper Canadien is your one stop shop for all things Montreal Canadiens. Since the summer of 2010, I've been providing Habs related news, notes, and most importantly, opinions. As a blogger, I don't believe it's my job to report the news, it's my privilege to comment on it. You may disagree with what I suggest. In fact, you most likely will. But that's the great part about blogging: it spurs opinion, comment and engages all involved. I've really enjoyed all the debate and commentary from readers thus far and I encourage everyone to respond with ideas on lineups, trades, logos, sweaters, mascots, whatever. The Upper Canadien is a conversation for all hockey fanatics.

I've come to Kukla's Korner with four years of campus radio and three years of sportswriting from my time at Mount Allison University on Canada's East coast. Not only do I not have any professional journalistic training, after five years in the corporate world, I've spent much of the past two years completing an MBA. Business by day, hockey by night, I'm a Canadiens fan through and through. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I do writing.

Questions or comments? theuppercanadien@kuklaskorner.com