No. 12 Canadiens vs. No. 5 Penguins
8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens open their best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifier series at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, the Eastern Conference hub city, on Saturday.
The Penguins are attempting to move on to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a chance to win the Cup for the third time in five seasons after winning consecutive championships in 2016 and 2017. They defeated the Canadiens in two of three meetings this season, including the two most recent (3-2 in overtime on Jan. 4 and 4-1 on Feb. 14).
Montreal is looking to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2017. It last faced Pittsburgh in the postseason in 2010, when it won 4-3 in a best-of-7 series in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
There hasn’t been a best-of-5 series in the NHL since 1986. The League used them for the preliminary round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs from 1980-86, and the team that won Game 1 went on to win the series 87.5 percent of the time (49 of 56).
Here are three keys to Game 1:
1. Crosby and Guentzel reunited
Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel will play together in a game that is not an exhibition for the first time since Nov. 9, when Crosby was injured before having core muscle surgery Nov. 14. He returned Jan. 14, but Guentzel had shoulder surgery Dec. 31, which caused him to miss the rest of the regular season.
The forwards will be back on the top line with Crosby at center and Guentzel at left wing, joined by Conor Sheary on right wing. Crosby had 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists) in 41 games this season; Guentzel, who was named to the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game, had 43 points (20 goals, 23 assists) in 39 games.
“A lot of anticipation has built up over those months, not knowing what was going to happen,” Crosby said. “We’re here. We’re excited. We worked to get to this point. So it’s fun and we’re excited to play meaningful hockey.”
2. Price vs. Murray
The starting goalie for the Canadiens was never in question. Carey Price, who was 27-25-6 with a 2.79 goals-against average and .909 save percentage in 58 starts this season, is the undisputed No. 1 goalie for Montreal.
But during training camp, Price said he can’t defeat Pittsburgh on his own, meaning forwards Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher, Nick Suzuki and others must produce on offense.
The decision was less straightforward for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray was named the starter Saturday after competing with Tristan Jarry for the role throughout training camp. The two-time Stanley Cup champion (2016, 2017) was 20-11-5 with a 2.87 GAA and NHL career-low .899 save percentage this season.
3. Turning on the power
Neither team impressed on the power play in its respective exhibition game Tuesday.
Pittsburgh was 0-for-3 with the man advantage in a 3-2 overtime loss against the Philadelphia Flyers. Montreal was 0-for-6, and allowed two shorthanded goals, in a 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Penguins and Canadiens were also inconsistent on the power play during the regular season. Pittsburgh was 16th in the NHL (19.9 percent); Montreal was 22nd (17.7 percent).
A win Saturday could come down to which team takes advantage of its opportunities on the power play.
Canadiens projected lineup
Tomas Tatar — Phillip Danault — Brendan Gallagher
Jonathan Drouin — Nick Suzuki — Joel Armia
Paul Byron — Jesperi Kotkaniemi — Artturi Lehkonen
Dale Weise — Max Domi — Jordan Weal
Ben Chiarot — Shea Weber
Brett Kulak — Jeff Petry
Xavier Ouellet — Victor Mete
Scratched: Charles Hudon, Jake Evans, Ryan Poehling, Cale Fleury, Noah Juulsen, Gustav Olofsson, Christian Folin, Cayden Primeau, Michael McNiven
Unfit to play: None
Penguins projected lineup
Jake Guentzel — Sidney Crosby — Conor Sheary
Jason Zucker — Evgeni Malkin — Bryan Rust
Patrick Marleau — Jared McCann — Patric Hornqvist
Zach Aston-Reese — Teddy Blueger — Brandon Tanev
Brian Dumoulin — Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson — John Marino
Jack Johnson — Justin Schultz
Unfit to play: None
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