The Montreal Canadiens did what most could not fathom them accomplishing, defeating the evil which shall not be named in their second round series in seven games to bounce the President’s Trophy winners of the regular season and return to the Eastern conference finals for the first time since 2010. There is a stark difference from the magical run of that year and the somehow quietly dominant run up until this point Habs fans find themselves enjoying this year. It was a different NHL back then, our next conference final opponents this year were on the outside looking in falling by one point behind Montreal to make the playoffs, our wonderful friends in Toronto saw their team sitting at the bottom of the Eastern conference and the Atlanta Thrashers had not yet lost their second club to a second Canadian city.
Back then it was Jaroslav Halak leading the Canadiens to this point in the postseason on stellar goaltending for an 8th seed team which had to go through another President’s Trophy team in the Washington Capitals, followed by Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in another seven game series thriller which uplifted Habs fans across the nation. The problem with magical runs through the playoffs is that most of the time, that’s all they are, magic, and the sad reality is magic isn’t real. Those Montreal Canadiens held on despite being consistently outplayed and outshot throughout both those series before running into a crushing defeat from another magical team of those playoffs, the Philadelphia Flyers. Defeated in five games, the illusion disappeared and while it was great having hot goaltending more was needed to be successful if a more threatening run was to be made. As for those Flyers, their illusion ended when the Windy City gave them turbulence and ended them in six games. Many Habs fans delighted, “Crush The Canadiens” to us became “Crash The Flyers” as the Chicago Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup since 1961.
This year however, in these playoffs, it isn’t magic that has gotten Nos Glorieux this far.
Paying The Price
There were so many doubters, so many haters of the man the Habs took in the Sidney Crosby draft of 2005 as the 5th overall pick. Carey Price has provided the stellar goaltending the Habs have needed to make it this far, making numerous brilliant saves on his way to posting a .926 save percentage and 2.15 goals against average in these playoffs. While those who only look at these stats and may say he isn’t the best performing goaltender in these playoffs, those who’ve watched Price lead the Canadiens through two rounds know very well he’s made some incredibly timely saves and has always done what any goaltender can hope to do, give his team the chance to win. Most of the time he makes it look easy, but he has also shown he can battle and make the toughest saves when needed to. He stopped everything he saw unlike his counterpart from Boston marking one of the key differences in this series as it closed out in game 7 in Boston.
Carey Price was lamented for being unable to win a playoff series since his rookie year, yet has now helped the Habs win two. Part of the complaint was that he had yet to lead Montreal to the conference finals as Halak had in 2010, and now he has accomplished this. He stood up in the locker room during the second intermission of game 7 to inspire his troops and give the guys who play in front of him part of his calm, cool and confident demeanor to finish those who shall not be named and to a man each and every single man who wears the CH responded. Yet the journey is far from over.
The Time To Believe
Yet despite the brilliance of Carey Price, he isn’t the only reason the Habs have made it to this point despite all the experts dismissing them. Throughout the first two rounds, Montreal has seen contributions from every player in some form or another. From the heroic shot blocking of Mike Weaver and Josh Gorges among others, to the scoring from unexpected sources such as Rene Bourque and Dale Weise, the clutch scoring Daniel Briere is known for and two series clinching goals from Max Pacioretty, up and down the line the Montreal Canadiens have shiwn the heart and determination of true champions. Despite surviving the offensive threats of players like Steven Stamkos and rookie Ondrej Palat, despite surviving the hard hitting, strong and aggressive play of they who shall not be named as that rival team spent long stretches dominating Montreal in the Habs end of the ice, there are still those so called experts who would doubt these Montreal Canadiens when it comes to the ultimate prize.
It’s too bad for them and all the scattered Habs haters in Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary and among other fan bases disgruntled with their own team’s lack of success these Montreal Canadiens don’t care what they think. Not the experts, not the fans. The only thing that matters as P.K. Subban said recently are the guys in the locker room, the coaches and the organization as a whole. This is a team that is purpose driven, a team which solidified its bond and spirit together back on March 15th in a triumphant comeback victory over the now hated Ottawa Senators in a game which sent Montreal’s confidence skyward and began the descent of Ottawa’s season to the grave. These Montreal Canadiens believe, in their coach Michel Therrien, in General Manager Marc Bergevin for bringing in the type of goal scorer like Thomas Vanek, the surprising grit of Mike Weaver and the enlightening love of the Montreal Canadiens only a lifelong Habs fan could have in Dale Weise driving his determination but most importantly they believe in each other. Should these Canadiens defeat the New York Rangers, it will be time Habs fans turn their heads away from the glories of the past and maybe we can begin the next chapter in the most storied franchise of hockey’s history.
As I sat outside on a friends patio following game seven, the group of us smiling and discussing the victory that had just passed and those to come, we had to stop and smirk to the sounds of cars honking as they drove by in celebration of Montreal’s victory came and went up and down the street. To us, it was the sound of a true spring in Montreal.
A sound we hope to hear echo into June.