There was a lot of optimistic Habs chatter going on Friday night at the bash to inaugurate TSN690’s new studios in the Bell Media radio HQ at the corner of Rene Levesque and Papineau. Play-by-play man John Bartlett said he hoped to be calling Canadiens games well into June and Mayor Denis Coderre actually started a chant of ‘Go Habs Go’ when he took the stage. When I arrived at the party with my mate Noel Butler – aka Mr. Soccer – I bumped into Habs president Geoff Molson leaving and I wished him luck in the playoffs. (He did a double-take. Molson, like most of you, is obviously surprised/shocked to see that I appear to be on the Habs bandwagon.)
Of course the folks at TSN690 want Montreal to go deep into the playoffs. It’s good for business. The Habs are the station’s bread-and-butter, so the longer they stay alive, the better it is for the Little-Station-That-Could.
But for us independent observers, la question qui tue is – just how deep will Les Boys go? Longtime readers of this missive will know that for most of this season I have not been a believer. But I am a big enough boy to admit I was too pessimistic. You can’t argue with their record. Going into the final game of the season against the Rangers, Montreal has a 45-28-8 record, giving them 98 points, good enough for third place in the Atlantic division, a point behind their first-round opponent Tampa Bay.
I also underestimated l’effet Vanek. I was grumbly about the trade because I didn’t see the need for a Rent-A-Player. That’s cos I didn’t see the team going far in the Real Season. But Thomas Vanek has changed this team. All of a sudden they have a truly great first line for the first time in ages and again the record speaks for itself – they’re 7-2-1 in their last ten.
Now all this has the city’s often-delusion fans talking of making the Cup final – and maybe even winning Lord Stanley’s famous champagne holder. My first observation would be that Habs fans – myself included – are probably in need of psychiatric attention. We suffer from serious mood-swing disorder – deadly lows followed by ecstatic highs. There is no middle-ground for us. The upside to that is there’s never a dull moment for us. The downside is there’s never a dull moment for us.
So first thing’s first, sure the Habs could win the Cup. But it really isn’t the most likely outcome. Making the final? Also possible but not likely.
Look. Here’s the bottom-line. All the experts will come out with their explanations in the days leading up to the start of the playoffs Wednesday but the hockey biz is like the movie biz, which screenwriter William Goldman summed up perfectly with his famous phrase – “Nobody knows anything.” No one ever knows if a movie is going to be a huge hit. And no one ever knows if a team is going to win a playoff series or not.
Who predicted the Habs would make the conference final in 2010? No one. I remember before both the Capitals and Penguins series, the Canadian hockey media – who all live in Toronto oddly enough – just laughing at Montreal. “Caps in 3” chuckled the TSN boys. Well guess what? The experts were full of something. They all got it wrong.
They didn’t see the Halak Stop Sign movement coming. Just like maybe none of us are ready for Kristers Gudlevski to steal the Habs Lightning series. Hey it could happen. Who dat? He’s the 21-year-old netminder who was just unbelievable in that crazy Canada-Latvia game in Socchi, making 56 saves, many of them simply spectacular. He was in the nets for Tampa’s 3-2 win over the Blue jackets Friday night. It was his first game in the NHL. Did someone mention the words ‘Ken Dryden’? Ha ha. Okay so it’s not that likely but my point is you just never know what’ll happen in a series.
Who called the Habs, hardly a Dynasty team at the team, to best the Stanley Cup champ Bruins in the first round in 1971? I mean did Red Fisher even predict that one? (An aside. What would Red have done without the story of that series? That provided a lifetime of columns. But I digress.)
Okay so I do think Montreal beats Tampa. Pat Hickey is right that the loss of giant Habs-slaying goaltender Ben Bishop is huge. If he’s not there at all, you have to think the Habs can take this one. But – and it’s a big ‘but’ – Carey Price has to have a great series. And he’s never had a great playoff series in the NHL.
Now again I’ve often grumbled about the What Me Worry kid but there’s no denying that he’s a different man today. He has finally had a fully real solid season and he was just fine in the Olympics (though we should just mention that the Habs defense corps is just a wee bit less solid than the Berlin Wall that was the Ds on Team Canada). Me I think he’s matured and that he’ll be great. But it’s never happened before.
Then it’s on to face Boston. On paper, the Bruins are a better team than us. But we bring something different to the table when we face Boston. If you don’t believe it, look at that last game in Boston when the Habs won 2-1 in the shoot-out. I heard Pierre McGuire on with Mitch Melnick saying the Bruins desperately wanted to win that game. They out-played Montreal and still lost.
Something strange happens with Boston-Montreal games and series that defies all rationality. Look at that series a couple of years back when the Habs took Boston to OT of game seven in the first round. We almost finished off the team that went on to win the Cup that year. And Montreal was not by any means a great team that year.
Give us a good Anakin Slayd anthem, Pricey in a zone and Patch on a mission to prove something to the thugs that nearly ended his career and……well anything can happen.
So yeah I’m feeling pretty upbeat this morning. But all that proves is I’m just another delusional Habs fan.