(TORONTO, ON) — It’s gameday. Finally. Since hockey and the Pittsburgh Penguins took a break on March 11 due to the coronavirus, we’ve waited for games that mattered, news that wasn’t life-changing, and the sheer thrill of hockey. Welcome home. Saturday night before a national Canadian audience and U.S. Network TV, the Penguins begin their Stanley Cup quest against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the Qualifying Round series.
If you took a break from hockey news for the past few months, the Qualifying Round is a best-of-five series. While it is the post-season, it is not the NHL playoffs. The winner will advance to Round One to face one of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference, whose seeds will be determined by a round-robin tournament. The loser will be eligible for the NHL Draft Lottery.
And since the “place-holder” team won the original draft lottery, the eight Qualifying Round losers will each have a 12.5% chance at that pick in a second lottery.
But, the Penguins aren’t in the market for a lottery pick.
The Penguins finished the regular season with 82 points (40-23-6), in third place in the Metro Division. Montreal (31-31-9) would have finished well out of the playoffs, but the NHL amended the playoff structure for a 24-team tournament.
The Penguins are the highest seed (5) in the Qualifying Round, and Montreal (12) is the lowest.
According to head coach Mike Sullivan, Matt Murray will start in goal for the Penguins. Though Sullivan didn’t quell the goalie controversy with his Saturday morning comments.
Barring any surprises, Carey Price will start for Montreal. Price was comparatively pedestrian this season. Price, 32, finished with a 2.79 GAA and a low .909 save percentage. However, both numbers are slightly better than Murray’s 2.87 GAA and .899 save percentage.
PHN broke down film — How the Penguins can beat Carey Price.
After some drama in camp, Montreal center Max Domi reported to Phase 3 training camp and will participate. Domi has Diabetes and received permission to make sure the league and the team created a safe environment before he returned.
Pittsburgh Penguins Lines
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
Montreal Canadiens Lines
Tomas Tatar — Philip Danault — Brendan Gallagher
Jonathan Drouin — Nick Suzuki — Joel Armia
Paul Byron — Jesperi Kotkaniemi — Artturi Lehkkonen
Jordan Weal — Max Domi — Dale Weiss
Ben Chiarot — Shea Weber
Brett Kulak — Jeff Petry
Xavier Ouellet — Victor Mette
This season, the Pittsburgh Penguins missed a whopping 302 man-games due to injury. They will be without Dominik Simon and Nick Bjugstad in the NHL return.
The Penguins were 2-1-0 against Montreal, but Montreal was 1-1-1 because of an OT loss.
The Penguins are 9-2 under Mike Sullivan in the playoffs.
The team has 12 players on their 31-man postseason roster who have not yet played an NHL playoff game. Forwards Anthony Angello, Adam Johnson, Sam Lafferty, Evan Rodrigues, and Phil Varone. Also, defensemen Kevin Czuczman, Pierre-Olivier Joseph, John Marino, and Juuso Riikola. Goaltenders Casey DeSmith, Tristan Jarry, and Emil Larmi have also not played in the post-season.
Jake Guentzel has scored 44 points in 41 playoff games. His 1.05 points-per-game average ranks third among all active players (min. 25 games), trailing only Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon (1.16) and teammate Sidney Crosby (1.13).
This will be Patrick Marleau’s 20th season in which he participated in the postseason.
Watch out for Montreal defenseman Jeff Petry. He has 12 points (1g, 11a) in 19 games against the Penguins.
Jonathan Drouin also has 10 points (6g, 4a) in 12 games vs. the Penguins.
How to Watch
The game will be broadcast nationally on NBC in the U.S. and the CBC in Canada.
It will be a primetime national game.