In the Habs’ Room: Montreal may resort to sneaking into post-season play


The Canadiens finished the season series with a 3-6-1 record against the Leafs, who are their likely first-round playoff opponent.

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It’s not the ideal situation, but the Canadiens might have to be content with reaching the playoffs through the back door.

Coach Dominique Ducharme said Saturday he hopes Montreal can earn their spot in the post-season, but the Canadiens missed a third consecutive opportunity to do so when they dropped a 3-2 decision to the Maple Leafs on Saturday at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

The Canadiens also missed a chance to pull even with the Winnipeg Jets in the battle for third place in the Canadian division. The Jets learned why the Senators are the hottest team in the division when they lost 3-2 at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa. Winnipeg remained two points ahead of Montreal and the Jets also hold a game in hand.

Montreal is still in the driver’s seat in terms of wrapping up the fourth and final playoff berth even if they lose their two remaining games at home against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday and Wednesday. That’s because Calgary or Vancouver would have win all of their remaining games to have a chance to overtake the Canadiens. One team is certain to be eliminated Thursday when Calgary and Vancouver meet in the first of their four remaining  games against each other.

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The big question mark after Saturday night is will the Canadiens be ready to compete in the playoffs?

There was a decent effort in Toronto, but Montreal has lost three in a row and they finished the season series with a 3-6-1 record against the Leafs, who are their likely first-round playoff opponent.

Ducharme tied to be positive with his post-game comments.

“There are always highs and lows in a game,” he said. “We always want to play 60 minutes, but there are always going to be changes in rhythm. In general, I think the game could’ve gone either way. I’d say they maybe had one more favourable bounce than we did.

“I have confidence in our team,” Ducharme added. ‘We have players who’ll be coming back soon. We came out with energy tonight, and I think we played a good game. It wasn’t perfect. (The Leafs) just capitalized on their chances.”

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Those players coming back are the wild cards. A healthy Carey Price will help, Shea Weber will shore up the defence and Brendan Gallagher’s presence will give everyone a lift even if his broken thumb limits his effectiveness.

But it is crucial Phil Danault recovers from his concussion in time for the playoffs because the Canadians don’t have a player who can do what Danault does. He plays hard minutes against the opposition’s top lines and he’s the most reliable Canadien in the faceoff circle.

Danault might have made the difference Saturday. In his absence, Nick Suzuki was the Canadiens’ busiest faceoff man and, on a night when the Canadiens won only 38 of the faceoffs, he was uncharacteristically good. He won 12 of 24 draws and his 50-per-cent success rate was one of his best performances this season and a win against John Tavares led to Suzuki’s 13th goal of the season.

The flip side was his head-to-head matchup against Auston Matthews. Suzuki won only four of 14 faceoffs against Matthews and the Toronto star had a clean win to set up Mitch Marner for the winning goal in the second period.

If that situation arises in the playoffs, the Canadiens will need Danault in the faceoff circle.

phickey@postmedia.com

twitter.com/zababes1

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