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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 39.0: Playoff Preview (5pm MT, SNW)

The four North playoff sports are virtual locks and there is a chance we could see an Edmonton/Montreal playoff series for the first time in 40 years. Their only playoff matchup occurred in 1981, when the 14th-seeded Oilers swept the third-seeded Canadiens in three straight games.

The following season the NHL playoff format switched to the top four teams in each division playing one another and an Edmonton/Montreal playoff matchup hasn’t been possible until the Stanley Cup Finals ever since.

But this year, the playoff matchups in the North present opportunities we’ve rarely seen.

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Outside of one series against Montreal, Edmonton has never faced Toronto in a playoff series and they haven’t faced Winnipeg since their seven-game series in 1990. Edmonton is 6-0 in the post-season against the Jets, but that was over 30 years ago.

Winnipeg has never played Montreal or Toronto in the playoffs, and the Maple Leafs and Canadiens haven’t faced each other since 1979 when Montreal swept them 4-0.

The one benefit of the pandemic is the formation of the North division, and we will see playoff matchups that have never occurred or we haven’t seen in 30+ years. It is going to be awesome, and it should create some healthy rivalries among the four Canadian teams and their fanbases.

Montreal and Edmonton had dynasties in the past, but neither team has had much playoff success since the early 1990s. There isn’t any hatred or animosity between the teams or fans, but with five regular season games remaining and a possible seven-game playoff series on the horizon, animosity could arise over the next two months.

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Tonight could impact the playoff seeding somewhat, but I see tonight more as an opportunity for both teams to test themselves against a playoff opponent. Montreal’s strength starts in its own end. In his last 10 starts Carey Price has a .921sv% and 2.18 GAA. He was given a few days off in late February, and a new goalie coach, and since then he’s played quite well. He is good and their blueline is solid and their forwards, led by Phillip Danault, are responsible defensively.

On the season, Price has a .926sv% at EV while Jake Allen is at .943. Price is at .944sv% in his last 10 starts at 5×5. Montreal doesn’t give up a lot. They have outscored teams 74-48 at 5×5 thus far, and their 1.40 GA/5×5 is best in the NHL. Edmonton has scored the fourth most goals in the NHL at 5×5, so tonight is a matchup of offence v. defence.

Tonight will be an opportunity for the Oilers to play a “playoff style” game. I use quotations, because you can’t truly emulate a playoff game because we won’t see the emotion and physicality tonight that emerges in the playoffs. Everyone finishes their checks in the playoffs. The games are more physical and the battles more intense, but the discipline to stay within the system is the same and tonight we will see how the Oilers react to the tight-checking Canadiens.

Edmonton didn’t look good last Tuesday in Montreal. It was their third game in four nights and second of a back-to-back, but despite that their overall effort wasn’t good enough. They looked frustrated at times with the Canadiens’ ability to slow them down and not allow the Oilers any sustained pressure offensively. Tonight the Oilers are well rested, having only played one game in the past five days. Fatigue should not be a factor.

Last Tuesday McDavid faced a few more 5×5 minutes from the Edmundson/Weber pairing than he saw the Kulak-Petry pair. In fact Edmundson was the main guy they wanted out against McDavid. He played 8:10, while Weber played 6:07, Petry 5:28 and Kukak 3:55. The Habs rarely had their third pairing out against McDavid. Danualt’s line got the McDavid matchup the most among Montreal forward lines.

But McDavid played almost five minutes with Leon Draisaitl, and I’m curious now who the Habs will deploy against them separately. I suspect McDavid will see the Edmundson/Weber pairing along with the Danault line, and Draisaitl likely faces the newly formed Eric Stall line.

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Facing the opposing teams’ top players is nothing new for McDavid and Draisaitl, but through four games Montreal has done a good job of containing the Oilers superstars. Can they do it for the second time in six days? That is the most interesting storyline to watch tonight.

LINEUPS…

Oilers

RNH – McDavid – Puljujarvi
Kahun – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Archibald– Haas – Kassian
Shore – Khaira – Chiasson

Nurse – Barrie
Russell – Larsson
Jones – Bear

Smith

Oilers will stick with the winning lineup from Friday. Edmonton is 1-3 against the Canadiens this season, but Mike Smith is 1-0 in his only start. Montreal has done a good job limiting Edmonton’s best players in the three losses with only one assist to Connor McDavid. Edmonton needs to be patient at 5×5, and accept they likely won’t get as many chances as they want off the rush. The wingers on the top two lines need to win one-on-one battles tonight. The entire team needs to do this, of course, but the top two lines have the most skill and potential to score so they, along with the defensive pairs who are on with them tonight, need to be the difference makers at 5×5.

Canadiens

Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Drouin – Staal – Toffoli
Perry – Suzuki – Anderson
Byron – Kotkaniemi – Lehkonen

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Edmundson – Weber
Kuluk – Petry
Mete – Romanov

Price

Eric Stall plays his first game for the Habs tonight and they slotted him in the second line spot and demoted Jesperi Kotkaniemi to the fourth line. Montreal lacks an elite offensive player, but they have depth across four lines. Interesting to note Montreal has 10 players with 5+ goals and so do the Oilers and Toronto. Edmonton’s offensive depth is quite good this season, they just need to keep improving on lowering their goals against, mainly at 5×5.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Edmonton gets another strong performance from Mike Smith and he wins his second of the season over the Habs. Another low scoring 3-1 game.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Edmonton’s powerplay scores in the first period.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Tyson Barrie isn’t on for a goal against and people stop clamouring for Evan Bouchard to play.

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