The Montreal Canadiens will win the Stanley Cup because they have Carey Price playing in goal and the other 15 teams don't.
However, for the first time in a long time, the argument doesn't begin and end with Price. What the Canadiens are doing in front of him makes that argument far more compelling.
Yes, Price represents Montreal's biggest strength because very few teams get to have their best player on the ice for 60 minutes a game. But now, instead of simply relying on Price's brilliance to bail them out, the Canadiens are playing in such a way that accentuates their strength in goal.
The arrival of Claude Julien as coach on Feb. 14 led to the Canadiens making a series of tactical adjustments that have allowed them to be a far more effective team. They spend less time in their defensive zone thanks to a more aggressive puck pressure system Julien instituted, which lessens the strain on Price and allows him to stay sharp and fresh deeper into games.
That lack of defensive zone time also has helped make the Canadiens a more disciplined team. They were the most penalized team in the NHL when Julien arrived and are among the least penalized under him.
The Canadiens also made a major transaction in the offseason that has helped Price excel, acquiring defenseman Shea Weber from the Nashville Predators for defenseman P.K. Subban. Weber's defensive play has been outstanding and Price has enjoyed the clean view of shooters and cleared out rebounds. Weber and Andrei Markov face the opposing team's top forwards every night and have been on the ice for only a handful of even-strength goals against since they were paired together on Feb. 25, shortly after Julien arrived. And if the opponents manage to get past the defense, they have to deal with beating Price.
All of these factors make the biggest weakness for the Canadiens - scoring -- less of one because they don't need as many goals as most teams to win games. When Price is on his game, two will usually suffice.
The top line of Max Pacioretty, Alexander Radulov and Phillip Danault began to find its stride over the final two weeks of the regular season and Julien has found combinations behind them that have worked, with big, physical players rotating in and out on a fourth line that should wear on opponents in a playoff series.
In the end, the Canadiens will win the Cup because Price will lead them there. It is a glaring omission in his collection of Olympic gold, World Junior gold and a Calder Cup.
It is his time.
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