American writer Maria Konnikova once said, about adversity: “If you are lucky enough to never experience any sort of adversity, we won’t know how resilient you are. It’s only when you’re faced with obstacles, stress, and other environmental threats that resilience, or the lack of it, emerges: Do you succumb or do you surmount?” Truer words were not spoken. And how well does it apply to this edition of the Montreal Canadiens after what they’ve encountered throughout this 2021 season?
To say that this season has been unusual would be an understatement. To pretend that the Canadiens’ season was no different than any other team in the NHL would be lying. And to try to diminish the accomplishments this team has done and gone through would be a huge mistake. Have a look at the sequence of events leading to today…
February 24th – Coaches fired
After a hot start where the Canadiens went 7-1-2 in their first 10 games, the team struggled with a meagre 2-5-2 (.333 Pts%) in their next nine games. This stretch included a full week off where the coaching staff was unable to straighten the barge. So on February 24th, Claude Julien and Kirk Muller were fired by Marc Bergevin. Dominique Ducharme took over as Interim coach while Alex Burrows was promoted from the Laval Rocket to come help the coaching staff. “I saw a team that was lost, a team that lacked direction. Those things happen in professional sport”, said Bergevin.
March 2nd – Stéphane Waite replaced
A week later, seeing Carey Price‘s struggles, it was Stéphane Waite‘s turn to be shown the door. The Canadiens are about to jump on the ice for the third period when Bergevin took Waite aside to inform him of his decision. Bergevin justified the timing of his decision to allow time for Waite to pack his stuff, saving the humiliation of waiting after the game. Bergevin apparently told Waite that “If Carey doesn’t find his game, I might be next to lose my job.” He was replaced by Sean Burke.
March 22nd – Joel Armia has COVID-19
The Habs and Edmonton Oilers are about to open up a three-game series at the Bell Centre when the NHL announced the postponement of Montreal’s schedule. The reason: Joel Armia had contracted COVID-19. A total of four games are postponed further in the season. The Canadiens become the first team North of the border to see its season affected by COVID.
“If you live long enough, you’ll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you’ll be a better person. It’s how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit.” ~ Bill Clinton.
March 30th to May 12th – Schedule from Hell
This forced week off had devastating effects on the Canadiens’ schedule. The team then had to play 25 games in 44 days. During that period, at no time did Dominique Ducharme and his men get two days between games. In five consecutive weeks, they played four games in six days. During that extremely demanding period, they have lost multiple players to injuries, key players. They went 10-13-2 during that stretch and managed to hold on to qualify for the playoffs with two games to go in the season.
April 7th to May 12th – Without Carey Price
As if it wasn’t enough, the Habs had to go through a big stretch of that schedule without Price, who suffered a lower body injury and a concussion. He missed 19 of the team’s last 21 games. He and Brendan Gallagher were even loaned to the Laval Rocket for one game to get back to shape before playoffs. Gallagher had missed 21 games due to yet another hand injury.
April 28th – Jonathan Drouin takes a leave
The Canadiens take everyone by surprise when announcing that Jonathan Drouin would not be around the team for personal reasons for an undetermined amount of time. No one saw this one coming. The Habs’ offense had its hiccups during the season bu the loss of Drouin, who led the team in assists at the time, really hurt them. Media and fans were all over him because he only had two goals on the season, which prompted Drouin to tell them that there are two columns of offensive numbers: goals and assists. The Canadiens have always avoided answering the reason for his leave, rightfully so.
May 25th – Left for dead
In a game where they came out flat and emotionless, the Canadiens lose 4-0 to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who take a commanding 3-1 series lead in the best of seven. It seems like the Habs’ season is done. At least, that’s what most outside the organisation were thinking. The group inside the dressing room thought otherwise, however. They rallied to win the next three games, including two in overtime, to stun the division champions (and so-called experts) and move onto the next round.
June 2nd – Jake Evans gets destroyed
After putting the last nail in the coffin by scoring an empty net goal in game one, Jake Evans was victim of a vicious hit from a frustrated Mark Scheifele. I’ll spare you the details, leading to Scheifele’s four games suspension, but Evans was out the next nine games with a concussion. The Habs exercised the best revenge by sweeping the Jets who had just swept the Edmonton Oilers in the previous round.
June 17th – Dominique Ducharme in quarantine
The Canadiens’ head coach learned a devastating news when his team came back from Vegas, after splitting the first two games. Ducharme had tested positive and was place on the NHL COVID protocol, place in quarantine for the next 14 days. Luke Richardson took over and the Canadiens eliminated the Golden Knights in six games to reach the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 28 years. Ducharme also missed the first two games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and has now been back behind the bench for game three and four.
June 27th – Joel Armia, take two
Due to what has now been said to be a “false-negative”, Joel Armia had to stay home. He couldn’t practice with the team and ended up flying to Tampa Bay on a private flight, as the team was already in Tampa. Since he hadn’t practiced with the team and arrived in the afternoon of the game, Ducharme chose to leave him out of the line-up that game.
July 6th – Hurricane Elsa
Hours after the Canadiens plane landed in Tampa for game five, Hurricane Elsa was hitting Tampa Bay. The Airport was going to be shut down by 5:00 PM Eastern time, merely a couple of hours after the Canadiens’ landed. Winds of 110-120 kms/hr were expected in the area. The Tampa Bay mayor Jane Castor took some heat when she said hoping that the Lightning would “take it easy in game four against the Canadiens to come back to win the Cup in Tampa”. The Canadiens did end up winning game four. Not having learned her lesson, she provided more fuel to the Habs’ dressing room with another quote out of place…
No matter what happens, the Habs will have had an unbelievable run under very difficult and extenuating circumstances. Fans should be proud of these players, coaches and management team. Don’t allow yourself to be swept or convinced by negativity folks. The future is bright in Montreal. Go Habs Go!
Most of this article was translated from an article from Jonathan Bernier in Le Journal de Montréal. I have added and changed a few things but credit to Jonathan for the skeleton.