The one clear benefit of the play-in round for this summer’s Stanley Cup playoff conclusion to the 2019-20 campaign is it gives new life to hockey clubs otherwise out of it with a month to go in the regular season.
The biggest beneficiary of that new postseason life is undoubtedly the Montreal Canadiens, who had the lowest point total (71) of any of the 24 teams that will qualify for the play-in round. The Habs were a bad team playing out the string that’s now been thrown a life preserver due to the unforeseen circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Montreal is scheduled to play the fifth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins once the postseason format begins and will face an uphill battle against a healthy, rested group that still features Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and is just a few seasons removed from back-to-back Stanley Cup titles. One would expect that Canadiens fans, media and anyone interested in the Bleu, Blanc and Rouge would be looking for reasons to justify their newfangled postseason presence.
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But TSN 690 radio host Tony Marinaro wasn’t having any of that sunshine Habs talk during a recent NBC Sports Boston Zoom call with myself and Boston Sports Now’s James Murphy when asked about Montreal’s new life.
“The station I work for TSN 690 is the official partner of the Montreal Canadiens. We air Montreal Canadiens on our radio station. This is great for the Montreal Canadiens. It’s great for the fans. It’s great for the radio station that I work for. It’s great for me and it’s great for my show,” said an animated Marinaro. “Now, personally how do I feel about it? I think it’s stupid. [This is] a team that lost eight in a row at one point, and on another occasion lost another eight in a row. On another occasion lost five in a row.
“On another occasion lost three in a row and finished with 31 wins and 40 losses. [They] have a chance at a play-in to get into the actual playoffs? I think it’s the stupidest thing that I’ve ever heard in my life. These are exceptional times that call for exceptional measures. There are a lot of things that I don’t agree with. I think I speak for all of us that we all want hockey back and that the National Hockey League would want to have as many markets involved, in the mix, as possible to try and generate as much interest as possible, and to try and generate as much of the lost revenue as possible. I’m at a point where I just want sports back. As I much as I think it’s stupid, I want sports back more than I think it’s stupid if that makes sense.”
It certainly should make sense to anybody and everybody that loves, and right now misses, the NHL.
The hapless Canadiens were 10 points out of a playoff spot when the NHL regular season went on pause, haven’t made the postseason in back-to-back years, and will have not won a playoff series in five years when they eventually suit up against the Penguins this summer. Despite all of this, they might have a fighting chance with a rested, healthy Carey Price in a short series against a Penguins group coming off a long break.
A win by the Habs in the play-in could even eventually set up a playoff series between the Bruins and the Canadiens. Selfishly, who wouldn’t want to see Claude Julien and his Canadiens match up with the Black and Gold in a playoff series that could help rekindle a rivalry that’s been on life support over the last few seasons?
All that being said, it’s going to be tough to feel like low-seeded play-in teams like the Canadiens actually deserve a regular Stanley Cup playoff berth given so many critical voices viewing skepticism at the 24-team postseason format set up by the NHL.