The Habs are worthy kings of the North

The Habs are worthy kings of the North

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The Canadiens are Canada’s team now

Tyler Toffoli’s overtime goal last night gave the Montreal Canadiens a stunning sweep of their second-round series against the Winnipeg Jets and the first spot in the NHL’s final four. With Montreal about to represent the all-Canadian North Division in the Stanley Cup semifinals, here’s a crash course on the Habs for anyone thinking of jumping on the bandwagon:

They’re not the best team in the playoffs, but they’re the hottest. Since falling behind three games to one in their first-round series vs. Toronto, the Canadiens have reeled off seven consecutive victories. That’s the franchise’s longest playoff winning streak since 1993, when Patrick Roy led Montreal to 11 straight victories en route to the Stanley Cup. That Habs team (the last from Canada to win the Cup) lost its playoff opener to Quebec in overtime, then went 10-0 in OT the rest of the way. This year’s club is 3-0 in sudden death, including two wins when facing elimination against the Leafs. And here’s a crazy stat, courtesy of the NHL: Montreal has now gone nearly 438 minutes without trailing on the scoreboard. That’s the second-longest such stretch in playoff history, behind only the 1960 Canadiens juggernaut that won the franchise’s fifth consecutive Cup. Not what anyone expected from the team with the worst regular-season record in this year’s playoffs.

Their goalie is playing out of his mind. Not long ago, Carey Price was widely considered the best goalie in the world. He won both the Vezina and Hart trophies in 2014-15, and was a Vezina finalist as recently as four years ago. But he turns 34 this summer, and has looked at times over the last couple of years like a player in decline. Analytics-minded folks have pointed to his negative Goals Saved Above Average in each of the last two regular seasons. But, to the extent that he ever left, Price is back. He leads all playoff goalies in save percentage, and ranks third in goals-against average.

They have a “balanced” attack. That’s a nice way of saying none of the Habs’ forwards are stars. But Toffoli has played like one since Game 6 of the Toronto series, scoring four goals and assisting on four more in the last six games. Nick Suzuki, Joel Armia and Jesperi Kotkaniemi have also scored four times in the playoffs, while Shea Weber, Jeff Petry and Ben Chiarot anchor the defence.

Their next series is going to be harder. A take we’ve heard all year is “The North Division is soft. Whoever comes out of it will get crushed as soon as they have to play an American team.” That remains to be seen, but Montreal will be stepping up in class big-time in the next round. Its opponent will be either Colorado or Vegas — the top two teams in the regular season. Their series is tied 2-2 heading into tonight’s game (9 p.m. ET on CBC TV, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app), and anyone who’s caught even just a few minutes of it can see it’s a higher calibre of hockey than what we just saw in the Habs-Jets series. Whoever survives the Avalanche-Golden Knights showdown will be heavily favoured vs. a Montreal team that placed 18th overall in the regular season and has benefitted from both its playoff opponents losing a star player (Toronto’s John Tavares to injury, Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele to suspension) for the vast majority of the series. But, hey, in the NHL playoffs, you just never know. So count out the Canadiens again at your own peril. Read more about the “no one believes in us” Habs in this story by CBC Sports contributor Vicki Hall.

The always-cool Carey Price is once again playing like one of the best goalies in the world. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Quickly…

Canada’s Jessica Klimkait won a judo world title. The 24-year-old clinched an Olympic berth by advancing to the final of the women’s under-57 kilogram division this morning at the world championships in Budapest. Then she defeated Momo Tamaoki in the “golden score” period (sudden-death overtime, basically) to win her first world title at the senior level. Klimkait came into this event ranked second in the world, behind fellow Canadian and 2019 world champ Christa Deguchi. Only one judoka per country can compete in each Olympic weight class, and Canada normally settles it with a head-to-head fight-off when it has two athletes ranked in the top eight. But pandemic-related restrictions nixed that, so the spot was on the line at the world championships. Klimkait grabbed it when she won her semifinal bout and Deguchi lost hers to Tamaoki. Deguchi also dropped her bronze-medal match today. Read more about Klimkait’s winning the Olympic berth and the world title here.

The Canadian men’s soccer team plays a do-or-die World Cup qualifying match tonight. Canada is 3-0 in the opening round and has outscored its opponents 23-1, but it must win or draw vs. Suriname tonight to advance. The match starts at 9 p.m. ET (it’s being shown on the OneSoccer streaming service) and, due to travel restrictions, is being played just outside Chicago. Canada should be OK. It’s ranked 66 spots higher than Suriname, and the betting odds imply the underdog has only about a nine per cent chance of winning the match. Whoever advances will face the winner of Group E. That’ll be decided by the Haiti vs. Nicaragua match today at 5 p.m. ET. Haiti is favoured to win it, and a draw is good enough for them to advance. The next round is a two-leg, home-and-away set taking place this Saturday and next Tuesday.

Bianca Andreescu and her coach split up. After officially beginning to work with her in March 2018, Sylvain Bruneau helped Andreescu skyrocket from 256th in the world rankings to fourth in about a year and a half. Her rise culminated in 2019 when she won three high-end tournaments, including the U.S. Open to become the first Canadian tennis player to capture a Grand Slam singles title. But Andreescu suffered a knee injury at the season-ending WTA Finals and has struggled to stay on the court since coming back from the ensuing 15-month layoff. Last week, she lost in the first round of the French Open. Andreescu announced on Twitter today that she and Bruneau “have mutually decided to end our incredible coaching relationship” but “our friendship will live forever.” She added: “Sylvain was more than a coach… he is family.” In a press release from Tennis Canada, Bruneau called Andreescu “not only an exceptional athlete, but also an exceptional person” whose “best tennis is still ahead of her.” Read more about the split here.

The refugee team has tripled in size from the last Summer Olympics. In 2016, 10 athletes who had fled their home countries competed for the inaugural refugee team. This summer in Tokyo, it’ll be 29 athletes competing in 12 different sports. They come from Afghanistan, Cameroon, Congo, Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Venezuela, and they’ll compete in swimming, track and field, badminton, boxing, canoeing, cycling, judo, karate, shooting, taekwondo, weightlifting, and wrestling. Read more about the refugee team here.

Coming up on CBC Sports

Judo world championships: Watch live bouts in the women’s 63-kg and men’s 81-kg divisions on Wednesday from 4 a.m. ET to 12:30 p.m. ET here.

Volleyball: Watch the Canadian men’s team play Slovenia at the Nations League event in Italy on Wednesday at 8:45 a.m. ET here.

You’re up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.

Published at Tue, 08 Jun 2021 21:11:14 +0000