Call it Cinderella story, call it luck. Call it hard work, call it destiny. They didn’t believe in them. It’s been said that they wouldn’t win a single game against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. They then claimed that the Jets were too strong. Few gave them any chances against the powerful Vegas Golden Knights, who eliminated another powerhouse in the Colorado Avalanche. Yet here we are. Against all odds, the Montreal Canadiens are four wins away to winning their 25th Stanley Cup. They are the first team to qualify for the finals.
How many people wanted to see the team General Manager Marc Bergevin and/or interim head coach Dominique Ducharme fired this season? Raise your hand if you thought that the firing of Claude Julien, Kirk Muller and Stéphane Waite were moves of panic? How many of you were caught in the loophole of comparing the Habs’ record under Julien versus under Ducharme? Be honest… did you or did you not claim that the trade deadline acquisitions of Eric Stall, Jon Merrill and Erik Gustafsson were huge flops? How many people believed as I did, that Cole Caufield would need a year of maturing in the AHL before having an impact in the NHL?
This team has proven most people wrong, even the most die-hard fans. It has been even more obvious when listening to the media all over North America, but particularly Canada’s main broadcasters Sportsnet. It was all Toronto Maple Leafs. It was their year. They’ve added veterans and were a shoe-in to represent the North Division, likely even in the Stanley Cup finals. There’s not enough crows to be served, they’re now serving raven too in order to feed all of those who were dead wrong.
Us against the world
In an interview during those playoffs, Tyler Toffoli said it best: “No one outside the fan base believes in us. It’s Us against the world. But everyone in this dressing room believes in ourselves and that’s all that matters.”
That’s what it is. Us against the world. And here are a few examples:
The Habs will never win with a $10.5 million goalie:
Fact: Three of the four starting goalies in the semi-finals are in the top-4 in highest cap hits. The best in these playoffs is the highest paid, Carey Price.
Carey Price is finished and not worth his salary
Fact: In addition to what’s above, amongst goaltenders having played at least eight games in the playoffs, Price is first in wins, saves percentage and goals against average. After three rounds, he’s a favourite for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL Playoffs MVP.
The Habs’ defense is too slow
Fact: The Canadiens’ top-4, qualified by assistant-coach Luke Richardson as Clydesdales, are true workhorses. They’re big, mean and very difficult to play against. What they might lack in foot speed, they make up in physicality, positioning and instead of skating the puck, they pass it to the forwards.
Cole Caufield is too small
Fact: I was wrong. Not that I thought he was too small, I thought he’d need to fill-in a bit and a year in the AHL would be needed. Many did think the same and/or that he was too small. 14 teams passed on him at the NHL Draft…
Shea Weber is done
Fact: To his own standard, Weber had a rough season. I’ve been a great defender of the Canadiens’ captain as he’s been my favourite player in the NHL for years now. But he can no longer make up for his defense partner’s inaptitudes as he did his entire career, particularly since coming to Montreal. That’s why I’ve been wanting a suitable partner for him. But in these playoffs, or since coming back from injury, Ben Chiarot does his own work, allowing Weber to focus on his own game. Not flashy but effective, he’s one of the Habs’ best players in the playoffs.
Eric Staal is finished
Fact: That fourth line he forms with Corey Perry and Joel Armia is one of the Canadiens’ best and most consistent lines. As a line, they are passed only by the Toffoli-Suzuki-Caufield line in points production in these playoffs. Staal if tied for 5th in team points with eight points in 16 games.
Erik Gustafsson should not see the ice
Fact: While playing less than 10 minutes a game, Gustafsson has helped the Canadiens’ powerplay and has a team best plus -5 rating in these playoffs. He’s a step down from the clydesdales for sure, but he’s doing a good job overall.
The North Division is the weakest
Fact: There were no poor child in the North Division and every game was a battle. Add to that the most travel of all divisions. The Canadiens just dominated (for the most part) the NHL’s top team in Vegas, taking only six games to do so.
Habs only win because of Price
Fact: The Canadiens have four players with over 0.50 points per game, including Toffoli (0.82), Suzuki (0.76) and Caufield (0.60). Every single forward has at least one point. 14 players have scored including nine with three or more goals. They have four players with five goals each. The Habs’ power play is 7th in the playoffs (20.9%) and their penalty kill is first (93.5%). In fact, the Canadiens have allowed only three short handed goals in these playoffs while scoring four themselves while short handed!
Schedule and injuries are excuses
Fact: Since March 30th, the Habs had the toughest schedule in the NHL. During that time span, they had lost several key players for extended periods due to injuries. Fatigue was a huge factor in their up and down season. Now that the playing field is even, they’re winning. This is NOT a coincidence folks.
They win because other teams are decimated
Fact: Vegas had a full team and the Canadiens still beat them. While Toronto missed John Tavares and Winnipeg shot themselves in the foot with Mark Scheifele‘s own actions, the Habs have played the entire playoffs without their best play maker, a proven playoffs’ performer in Jonathan Drouin. Newsflash: they win because they’re good and playing together as a team.
Tampa Bay or New York?
Honestly, I feel like the way they’re playing right now, the Canadiens can beat either one of those teams. For some reason, I fear the Islanders more than I do the Lightning for one reason only: Barry Trotz. He’s a heck of a coach who has the Isles playing… like the Habs. The Lightning are banged up and their flying offense resembles more the Leafs and Golden Knights, so I trust Price, the Clydesdales and the Danault line to be able to shut them down. The Habs just eliminated Max Pacioretty. Can you imagine if they eliminated Mikhail Sergachev too? The “Subbanistas” couldn’t find a hole deep enough to hide! Too bad Drouin wouldn’t be part of it. Go Habs Go!