July 9, 2021

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Canadiens handed lifeline by NHL’s return-to-play plan

Brendan Gallagher is aware of the Montreal Canadiens don’t have any enterprise being anyplace close to a playoff spot.

They had been 24th within the standings when the NHL season was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, had simply 71 factors, and misplaced 4 instances in regulation to the abysmal Detroit Crimson Wings.

The present circumstances, nonetheless, are something however regular.

The Canadiens had been handed a lifeline by the NHL’s 24-team return-to-play plan introduced earlier this week that may see Montreal face the Pittsburgh Penguins in one among eight best-of-five qualifying spherical collection for a berth within the 16-club playoff bracket.

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The NHL and the NHL Gamers’ Affiliation nonetheless have lots hurdles to beat earlier than the season can resume this summer season — opening observe rinks early subsequent month, holding coaching camps in July, well being and issues of safety, testing, and naming two hub cites the place the playoffs might be staged in empty arenas — however the 2019-20 model of the Canadiens are grateful their script, up to now, stays unfinished.

“It really gives everyone who would have been in that mix a chance,” Gallagher stated of the format. “And then there’s obviously a few teams like ourselves that have been given a second life.”

“You just try and take advantage of that the best you can if all goes well,” the Montreal winger added.

The Canadiens had solely 19 regulation victories from 71 video games when the season was suspended March 12, whereas the Penguins owned the league’s seventh-best file with 86 factors, 4 again of the Washington Capitals for first within the Metropolitan Division.

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Montreal, which was 1-1-1 towards Pittsburgh within the common season, was all however eradicated from playoff rivalry and looking out towards the NHL draft when the novel coronavirus outbreak introduced a halt to sports activities with 189 video games left on the NHL schedule. The Penguins’ probabilities of qualifying stood at 97 per cent.

‘Honest alternative’

Now the chances are so much nearer to even.

“I don’t think it was anyone’s first choice,” Gallagher stated. “The primary selection was to complete the common season … however as time went on, issues turned much less and fewer seemingly, so you must get artistic.

“That is actually the one alternative that works for the league and the gamers within the sense of giving everybody a good alternative, and never taking that chance from a workforce with 10 to 14 video games to go who may have made a push to make the playoffs.”

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There is a robust argument the perfect factor for the Canadiens long-term can be to be excluded from the return-to-play format and as an alternative have higher odds within the draft lottery.

However a roster that handled numerous accidents this season now has an opportunity to write down probably the most unbelievable off-the-mat tales conceivable.

“We’ll see what occurs when we’ve got to cross this bridge,” Montreal forward Paul Byron said. “It is a massive alternative for us and for our younger guys to realize expertise and play in that sort of ambiance. We’ll see what occurs.”

Format presents challenges for all groups 

There’s been some grousing in regards to the truth the Penguins must face rested Canadiens goalie Carey Value in a brief collection, however the truth stays Pittsburgh is a juggernaut with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

“In the event that they’re sad, I assume it is good for us,” Gallagher said with a laugh. “We clearly know what sort of problem that may be.

“But like any athlete, you look forward to testing yourselves and look forward to seeing how you hold up in those situations. It’ll be a test for our group.”

Pittsburgh basic supervisor Jim Rutherford stated it wasn’t the opponent that pissed off the Penguins, however reasonably that the workforce with the seventh-best file within the standings did not get a bye to the playoffs like Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Vegas, Colorado and Dallas.

These golf equipment would play separate round-robin tournaments to find out the top-Four seeds within the Japanese and Western Convention — if the NHL ultimately will get the inexperienced gentle from well being and authorities officers to restart the season.

“We were hoping that we would not have to be in the play-ins … that we would be automatically in,” stated Rutherford, whose workforce additionally battled accidents and will not have centre Nick Bjugstad obtainable this summer season. “I do not suppose that we needs to be sitting right here excited about our opponent. We needs to be doing what we did once we gained Stanley Cups. We should always are available in, play our personal recreation, have our personal gamers ready, and simply play.

“That is what we’ll do.”

The Canadiens, in the meantime, are grateful for a possibility they by no means noticed coming.

“We did not know what the scenario was going to be,” Gallagher said. “Have been we anticipating this? No.

“We’ll see how we stack up.”

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