Here’s a question. How, exactly, are the Montreal Canadiens doing this? They’re the lowest ranked team in the playoffs and, in fact, had fewer points than some teams who didn’t make the post-season. And yet, on Monday night — to everyone’s surprise — they were crowned de facto Canadian NHL champions, sweeping the Winnipeg Jets in the North Division final.
You’ve got to love the unpredictability of our national sport.
Who knew Carey Price could still play at this unbelievable level? Who knew Tyler Toffoli would show up this year and rediscover the junior scoring mojo he flashed here in Ottawa a decade ago, just two hours down the road? Two weeks ago, when the Habs were down 3-1 in their first round series against Toronto, who knew they were about to rattle off seven straight wins (and not trail in a game for even a second), including this overtime beauty in Game 4?
“I think that’s definitely one of the bigger ones,” Toffoli said, when asked about his game winner. “It’s fun right now. We’re doing a good job, and it just kind of feels like we’re all kind of playing as one.”
One cannot deny the franchise’s killer instinct through the years. The Canadiens improved to 34-0 all-time when leading a series 3-0.
Very few executives in hockey have faced more criticism and second-guessing than Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin. It’s always been that way for the guy who runs the show in Montreal – always under the high-powered microscope. And it’s not a stretch to suggest this seven-game run may have saved Bergevin’s job.
Whether you’ve agreed with his strategy and decision making in the role, it’s easy to root for Bergevin the person, who’s as likeable as they come, and killer funny. The mop-haired Bergevin – in his happy, red suit – was in fine form as his club nailed down the division title Monday night.
“(The Canadiens) are playing at a really high level right now,” said Jets’ captain Blake Wheeler. “You just have to give them all the credit. With the goaltending they have, any breakdowns, he’s putting out those fires. And we just couldn’t get the first goal. We just couldn’t do it all series.”
The seven-game win streak is the longest for the Habs since 1993. That was the year they won 11 straight and the Stanley Cup. No Canadian-based NHL team has won a Cup since.
Despite their heroics so far, the Canadiens move right back into the undisputed role of heavy underdog, facing either Colorado or Vegas in the Stanley Cup Semifinals. It’s almost unfair one of those clubs is going be asked to go away this week. They finished first and second overall in this year’s standings and both have been incredible so far in this post season.
But, during this unlikely run, this Montreal team believes more and more it has something special going, evolving from The Little Engine That Could to what the Jets would probably describe as more of a freight train. Habs fans like to think the train might even be getting a little push along the way from the Montreal playoff ghosts of the past who starred in so many great Stanley Cup stories.
“We can write our own story,” said Montreal head coach Dominique Ducharme. “That’s what we want to do.”
By Steve Warne