When Montréal Canadiens forward Tyler Toffoli potted the game-winner in overtime of Game 4 to vault his team into the Stanley Cup Semifinals, 2500 fans inside the Bell Centre and hundreds more stationed outside on St. Catharine Street erupted in rapturous joy. The Canadiens have made it to the third round of the playoffs for the second time in the last 12 seasons and the first since 2014 against the New York Rangers.
excitement and tension are palpable for Habs fans across the country. This is arguably the most exciting team the Canadiens have put together since the Cup-winning squad of 1993. There’s a sense of magic around this team that’s been sorely missed for many years. And the similarities are spooky, too.
The Building Blocks
This year’s Canadiens team is eerily similar to the team that captured Lord Stanley’s mug in 1993. Goaltenders Carey Price and Patrick Roy played major roles in the Habs’ successes, the former still doing so as they lie in wait for the next round. The debate on who was better between Roy and Price in Canadiens’ history is still raging. Both goalies have remarkably similar playoff stat lines, and they are each regarded as a fan favourite in their era.
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The leadership structure of both teams includes players widely respected across the league. Current Canadiens’ captain Shea Weber shares many similarities with Guy Carbonneau, the Habs’ leader, the year they last hoisted the Stanley Cup. Carbonneau himself compared this year’s edition of the Canadiens to the 1993 squad, saying:
“The further this thing goes, the more they look like we [the 1993 Montréal Canadiens] did. We didn’t really have a great season overall and we didn’t finish strong either, but we did have a great mixture of young guys and veterans; we also had a great goalie. We turned a corner at the right moment, just like the Canadiens did this season.”Former Montréal Canadiens’ captain Guy Carbonneau on the similarities between this year’s team and that which he captained to a Stanley Cup in 1993 (from “Le Canadien des séries 2021 et l’édition championne de 1993” 98.5 Montréal. 08/06/2021).
Like the 1993 Stanley Cup champions, this year’s Canadiens team conquered some of the best teams in the league on their way to a championship. The 2021 Canadiens, the playoffs’ biggest underdogs, matched up against the heavily-favoured and high-powered Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round, dispatching them after seven games. The Habs’ responsibility in their matchup with the Maple Leafs was to shut down the Buds’ offensive powerhouses, which included Rocket Richard trophy winner Auston Matthews and top-5 scorer Mitch Marner. They were extremely successful in the face of this seemingly monumental challenge, limiting Matthews to one goal and holding Marner to four assists.
The 1993 Canadiens faced off in the Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings, a roster that included some of the biggest names in NHL history and the greatest player in the history of the sport. Co-captained by Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille and bolstering the likes of Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, and Rob Blake, they defeated Doug Gilmour’s Maple Leafs to reach the Final, with Gretzky and Robitaille leading them in scoring the whole way.
In the 1993 Final, the Canadiens defeated the Kings in five games, limiting Gretzky to seven points (two goals, five assists) and Robitaille to five points (three goals, two assists). There’s something about shutting down the league’s best that brings out a championship mentality.
The Mood From Outside
The 2021 Canadiens have put on an exciting show for their fans, facing off against some of the league’s best in the process. The next round will see them face the Vegas Golden Knights, who over the past few seasons have been one of the league’s best teams, culminating in a Stanley Cup Final berth in 2018 against the Washington Capitals. For the fans, the memories of the Habs’ last run to the championship are flooding back in waves. Alessia Simona Maratta of Global News drew on the story of Québec City resident André Lavoie, who purchased tickets to watch the Canadiens eliminate the Winnipeg Jets in person, shelling out a total of $5000. Lavoie said of his decision:
“I think because of COVID we realized we have only one life and I didn’t want to wait. I said, let’s get to Montréal. We took a chance – a lot of money and a chance. I’m very excited, I think they’re going to win the Cup. It reminds me of 1993; I was with my grandfather, and now I’m with my son.”Québec City resident André Lavoie on his decision to attend the Canadiens’ series clinching game against the Jets with his son in-person (from “It reminds me of 1993′: Montreal celebrates Habs’ four-game sweep against Winnipeg Jets” Alessia Simona Maratta. Global News. 10/06/2021).
The hype surrounding this Canadiens team seems like something that doesn’t happen often. It seems like something generational, something that some fans can barely remember and some fans have to ask about. The similarities are eerie, and we might not have to ask what the last Canadiens’ championship victory was like much longer.
Covering the Montréal Canadiens and other topics for The Hockey Writers. Also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs and progressive rock music.