It took 56 regular season games, four playoff contests and the threat of elimination before the real Montreal Canadiens stood up. Better late than never as the saying goes.
For months, fans and the media have been hearing the same refrain from players and management about how they are built for the playoffs, that they believe in this group, and that they can play any style to counter their opponents. Instead, the product on the ice left many questioning the team’s leadership and whether they were overrated.
An Improbable Comeback
With their backs against the wall trailing 3-1 to the Toronto Maple Leafs in their first-round series, the team that general manager Marc Bergevin built during the offseason and through his nine years at the helm finally arrived in a big way.
They staved off elimination three times against their arch-rivals and the top team in the Scotia North Division in 2020-21 thanks to a truly collective effort propelled by the greatness of Carey Price. Beginning in Game 5, it felt like the Canadiens couldn’t put a foot wrong. They got big saves and important goals at the right time all while slowly chipping away at Toronto’s will and belief. By the time Game 7 rolled around it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that the Habs would advance. It’s as if something clicked.
“I thought you could feel a little bit of a shift in their team when Kotkaniemi and Caufield came into the lineup for them. You could just sense things shift a little bit in terms of their depth and their speed and skill and those kinds of things that changed the dynamic of the series a little bit, even though it took time for that traction,” Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said after Game 7.
The kids provided the spark that was desperately needed, and the veterans stepped up to lead by example when the clock was about to strike midnight. Balance, that’s what the Canadiens are all about. They aren’t the best or most talented team, but they are deep at every position and can come at the opposition in waves. They have every ingredient for success on the roster, it was just a matter of putting it all together at the right time and now they are on the verge of something special.
Firing on All Cylinders
The Habs are riding their first five-game win streak since 2017 after taking a 2-0 lead in their second-round series against the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night and have not trailed since losing Game 4 against the Leafs.
All four lines are contributing, and the defense has held firm in front of Price. They are playing as a true five-man unit in all three zones which has helped them generate more offense and limit the time they spend in their own end. This style of play is what interim head coach Dominique Ducharme has been trying to implement since taking over for Claude Julien and his players are executing it to perfection right now.
They’re playing with pace and being physical. Not to mention that their much-maligned special teams are suddenly working too, contributing six goals so far, four on the power play and two shorthanded.
But nobody has been better than “Playoff Price” who is living up to his postseason reputation yet again. A brilliant .935 save percentage and 2.06 goals against average through nine games has given his teammates a ton of confidence. He earned his eighth career playoff shutout on Friday versus the Jets which puts him third all-time in Habs history. He’s also now 12-0 in the playoffs when the Canadiens score three or more goals. Anything is possible for the underdog Habs if their franchise netminder continues to play at this level.
Winning Changes Everything
Considering where things stand now, it’s hard to believe that just a few days ago it was all doom and gloom with Montreal on the verge of elimination. People wanted everyone fired and most of the players traded following another failed season and a team that didn’t live up to expectations. Fans felt like they had been lied to and were already calling for wholesale changes.
But that’s the great thing about sports, it’s not over until it’s over. Momentum can shift in an instant with one play or defining moment. The Habs were one goal away from elimination and are now two wins from the final four. That’s why they play the games and that’s why we watch.
This latest memorable playoff performance has been characterized by character, heart, belief, resilience, leadership, and teamwork. Maybe, just maybe, the Canadiens are exactly who we thought they were after all.
Melissa has been covering the Montreal Canadiens for The Hockey Writers since March of 2020. She is also THW’s Social Media Community Manager and a co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly show produced by THW. In 2006, she spearheaded the social media initiatives for Tennis Canada and Rogers Cup and was the primary person responsible for their upkeep for over 10 years. She has written articles for multiple tennis websites and interviewed the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams. While her career in sports started in tennis, her first love has always been hockey. She has a journalism degree from Concordia University.