Well, if there was ever a more surprised group of fans than the ones who sat dumbfounded as their Canadiens defeated the Washington Capitals in game 7 of the quarterfinals, I’ve never seen it. I’ll remember that feeling for a long time. I happened to be in a pub in Toronto filled to the brim with Habs fans expecting to see the final game of our season, only to witness one of the truly shocking upsets in Habs history, and one of the greatest post-game celebrations in my history! The team that simply wasn’t supposed to be in the playoffs made it in. The team that was supposed to lose in four straight won in seven. It was unbelievable in every way given how poorly the Habs performed down the stretch of the regular season. And yet, they won.
After knocking off the first seed, pundits began the arduous task of re-writing the course of events. The Capitals went from Cup contenders to a team ‘not built for the playoffs’ overnight. The Habs were given almost no credit for the way that they defended in front of Jaroslav Halak. Pundits seemingly forgot that Montreal blocked 1 shot for every 1 allowed in game 7 showing the heart and determination that every successful playoff team needs. Montreal once again entered a series, this time against the Pittsburgh Penguins, in which they were afforded no chance. They had done well to get to that point but they had “no chance against a Pittsburgh team who will do everything that Washington couldn’t”. Or so the so-called experts thought. Montreal went to work against the Penguins, stifling Crosby, Malkin and Gonchar in the same manner they shut sown Ovechkin, Semin and Greene. Again Montreal took the Penguins to game 7, and again we watched in jubilation as the Canadiens emerged victorious.
With the Conference Finals came a weird sensation for Habs fans. Confidence. Slowly Habs fans began remembering the days of old. The swagger you feel in knowing your team is the team of champions. After the tumultuous few years that the Canadiens had endured, it was an uneasy feeling to think that the Habs actually had a great shot at making the Stanley Cup Finals. Unfortunately, the only thing standing in the way was the Philadelphia Flyers, the only other team in the playoffs who had experienced the kind of resiliency and determination that the Canadiens had shown. Their come-from-behind victory over the Bruins will go down as one of the great performances in NHL history. Only two teams had ever accomplished the same thing.
The Canadiens season had a somewhat anti-climactic ending. The Flyers were able to dispatch the Habs in five games, showing all of the qualities that got the Habs to the Conference finals. They blocked shots, they got saves and they were opportunistic in their goal-scoring. While the sting of defeat is still fresh in my own mind, I have to give the Flyers all the credit they deserve. They were simply much better in all of the areas that allow you to win in the playoffs. While most pundits are clamoring to choose a Chicago victory for the Cup Finals, I wouldn’t be so quick to discount what can happen when a properly motivated group of individuals set out to do their job efficiently.
As the Habs pack up their lockers many of us are wondering what the future looks like in Montreal. The playoffs have made a few off-season moves very easy, and some very difficult.
-Jaroslav Halak is the starting goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens. I’m not saying Price is going to be moved, but Halak isn’t going anywhere, unless some team out there makes it very worthwhile. Montreal can afford to take a wait and see approach with their goaltending situation.
-PK Subban is a Montreal Canadien. I simply cannot wait to watch him play with Andrei Markov next season. If people thought Streit was good with our beloved Russian, wait til they get a look at PK. The question is, who loses a spot next season? Montreal has some decisions to make on defense. You have to believe that Markov, Subban, Gill, and Gorges are locks. Where does that leave the rest? Spacek, O’Byrne and Hamrlik are under contract next year. That makes 7 defensmen right there. Will the Habs let Bergeron and Mara walk, or will there be maneuvering in the offseason to shed some salary space?
-After his performance in this years run you have to think that Dominic Moore will be resigned with the Habs. Similarly, Tom Pyatt emerged as a legitimate defensive forward. So where does that leave players like Pouliot, Darche, Metropolit, Lapierre, and Sergei Kostitsyn? It is clear that Montreal needs to improve its supporting cast that surrounds Gionta and Cammalleri… the question is are any of these guys the ones to do it?
-The biggest off-season question will revolve around Tomas Plekanec. Before the playoffs started he was just about the only bright spot in a murky and tumultuous season. The question is, was his regular season good enough to warrant the kind of contract that he is looking for? There is no doubt that Plex once again faded when the style of play switched to the more physical playoff style. If Montreal does let him walk away via free agency – where is the upgrade? The only reason to let Plex walk is if Montreal feels there is a more physical player that could compliment Michael Cammalerri. There is no doubt that Montreal still needs to upgrade size up front. They simply have no answer for players like Hartnell, Lucic or Asham.
Those are a few of the storylines that will begin once the Cup Champions are decided. The Canadiens have earned a summer of rest and recharging, because there is no doubt that expectations will once again be set high for next season. The dormant calls for the 25th cup will begin long before October. It was a fantastic run that was fun to watch. I want to thank everyone who posts on the site, and Habsblog for the opportunity to talk about the team we obsess over. I’m sure we’ll all be back on here when there are developments to talk about. Enjoy the Stanley Cup Finals, and the rest of your summer!
Go Habs Go!!