The playoff series no one predicted is the one we ended up getting: Canadiens vs Jets.
Winnipeg advanced to the North Division championship round with a shocking sweep of the Edmonton Oilers, winning three overtime games to pull it off. Many sportswriters, including myself, thought Edmonton would roll through the series. But Winnipeg’s defense stood firm, and brilliant goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck rained on the Oilers’ parade.
Meanwhile, the Montreal Canadiens rallied from a 3-1 series deficit, winning in overtime in Games Five and Six, then again on the road in Game Seven to stun the Toronto Maple Leafs. Similar to Edmonton, Toronto was penciled in to advance even before the season began, with many expecting them to advance to at least the semifinal round (again, myself included).
And now, after my apologies to Montreal and Winnipeg, let’s look ahead to the second round series. In this Canadiens vs Jets series preview, I’ll break down all you need to know before Montreal and Winnipeg take the ice, along with a winning pick for who will advance in the 2021 NHL Playoffs.
Canadiens vs Jets Series Schedule
GAME ONE: Wednesday, June 2, 7:30 P.M.
GAME TWO: Friday, June 4, 7:30 P.M.
GAME THREE: Sunday, June 6, 6:00 P.M.
GAME FOUR: Monday, June 7, 8:00 P.M.
GAME FIVE*: Wednesday, June 9, TBD
GAME SIX*: Friday, June 11, TBD
GAME SEVEN*: Sunday, June 13, TBD
* = if needed, all times Eastern
Canadiens vs Jets Regular Season Results
February 25: Jets 6, Canadiens 3
February 27: Jets 2, Canadiens 1 (OT)
March 4: Jets 4, Edmonton 3 (OT)
March 6: Canadiens 7, Jets 1
March 15: Canadiens 4, Jets 2
March 17: Jets 4, Canadiens 3 (OT)
April 8: Jets 4, Canadiens 2
April 10: Jets 5, Canadiens 0
April 30: Canadiens 5, Jets 3
Carey Price: 4-3-0, 2.24 GAA, .932 save percentage, (regular season: 12-7-5, 2.64 GAA, .901 save percentage, one shutout)
Jake Allen: No Playoff Stats, (regular season: 11-12-5, 2.68 GAA, .907 save percentage)
Connor Hellebuyck: 4-0-0, 1.60 GAA, .950 save percentage, (regular season: 24-17-3, 2.58 GAA, .916 save percentage, four shutouts)
Laurent Brossoit: No Playoff Stats, (regular season: 6-6-0, 2.42 GAA, .918 save percentage, one shutout)
Jonathan Drouin – personal, expected return: September 2021
Artturi Lehkonen – undisclosed, expected return: June 2
Jon Merrill – undisclosed, expected return: June 6
Ryan Poehling – wrist surgery, expected return: September 2021
Tomas Tatar – undisclosed, expected return: June 2
Nathan Beaulieu – shoulder surgery in April, expected return: September 2021
Power Play: 15.8% (3/19), 12th in playoffs, (regular season: 19.2%, 17th in NHL)
Penalty Kill: 87.0% (20/23), second in playoffs, (regular season: 78.5%, 23rd in NHL)
Power Play: 30% (3/10), fourth in playoffs, (regular season: 23.0%, seventh in NHL)
Penalty Kill: 81.8% (9/11), sixth in playoffs, (regular season: 80.5%, 13th in NHL)
Canadiens vs Jets Storylines
Montreal had the worst regular season goal differential (-9) of any playoff team. They scored the third fewest goals (159) and allowed the second-most (168) of any team to advance to postseason play.
Winnipeg’s wingers provide a significant scoring punch that is a constant threat to score. Kyle Connor (26 goals), Nikolaj Ehlers (21 goals), Blake Wheeler (15 goals), and Pierre-Luc Dubois (eight goals with Winnipeg, nine overall, traded from Columbus early in season) account for just over 41% of the Jets’ regular season goal total. Connor, Ehlers, and Wheeler each have two playoff goals already, and Dubois has chipped in with a pair of assists.
However, the Canadiens’ blueliners won’t make it easy on the group. Shea Weber, Ben Chiarot, Jeff Petry, and Joel Edmundson play a physical style that could wear down the Jets’ forwards, punishing would-be attackers on zone entries and board battles.
Weber and Petry are dangerous in the offensive zone as well. Though they have combined for no goals and one assist in the postseason so far, Petry ranked third in goals (12) and seventh in points (42) among defensemen in the regular season. Weber scored six goals with 13 helpers and is always a threat to unload a blistering slapshot from the point for a goal or a deflection.
The biggest matchup of this series will be between Canadiens goaltender Carey Price and Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck. Price was excellent under pressure while facing elimination, stopping 103-of-109 shots in Games Five through Seven against Toronto. Meanwhile, Hellebuyck leads all playoff goaltenders in GAA (1.60) and save percentage (.950).
Hellebuyck may have some extra motivation to shine after he was not named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy on Tuesday. A true workhorse in net, Hellebuyck led all goaltenders in games played (45) in the regular season, three more than Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. He also led in goals saved above expected (GSAx), an advanced stat which accounts for shot type, quality, location, deflected/undlected, etc.
According to MoneyPuck.com, Hellebuyck’s 19.3 GSAx was more than a full goal ahead of Vasilevskiy. He also led in goaltending Wins Above Replacement (WAR) at 3.21, again ahead of Vasilevskiy in second at 3.04.
For my money, this series comes down to which goaltender blinks first. While both have been excellent throughout the postseason, Winnipeg is more of a threat to score, as evidenced by their goals per game advantage over Montreal in both the regular season and the playoffs.
Fatigue could be a factor as well. Winnipeg last played on May 24 while Montreal went through the meat grinder of a seven-game series with multiple overtime games.
Still, the North Division playoffs have shown that anything goes this time of year. If Price stays hot, he’s one of the toughest goaltenders in the world to beat. It would not surprise me at all if he played well and led the Canadiens to another upset. However, I’m trusting the Jets to get the job done.
Series Prediction: Winnipeg Jets in Six Games.