I don’t often chime in about the Canadiens, mostly because there are so many people who write about them between professional journalists and bloggers alone. There isn’t much need to add to the pile.
But I’m feeling particularly connected to this edition of the Canadiens and the drive they’ve been on – an almost magical ride to their second-straight Game 7 against the top seed left in the conference – so I felt this was as good a time as every to put some words on paper… or on the screen.
I’ve been very reticent to cheer loudly for the Montreal Canadiens in recent years, despite the fact that I’ve been a fan of the Habs since the day I was born. I’ve just been incredibly frustrated over the last while about all the noise around the team. When you live in a city that’s all about one thing, all the time, that thing can become totally exhausting. And, I’ll admit, both my love for and my professional affiliation with the Alouettes has steered me more in the direction of CFL football as my primary source of sports affection.
Alex Kovalev, and how to ruin a team
Meanwhile, the Canadiens marketing machine has been steaming its way through the population since the early 2000s no matter how good or bad the team has been. Then starting in 2004, it all started going crazy, and it all started when the Canadiens acquired Alex Kovalev.
The trade that brought Kovalev to Montreal might have been one of the best in team history since the Canadiens basically got him for a sack of pucks. But at the same time as they got in him a talented player who was usually fun to watch, they got a heartless floater who converted a generation of people who know nothing about the Canadiens, the history of the game, the history of the team, or have any sense of perspective into fans.
So for the longest time going to the Bell Centre was simply a drag – all anybody wanted to see was sizzle, but the Habs were not giving real fans any steak. And the worst thing that could have happened was the team then winning the regular-season conference title in 2007-09, giving those fans the impression that the team was actually good.
In truth, much like the Alex Ovechkin-led Capitals of today, the Canadiens of that season and last year had a rotten heart. Their true leader, Saku Koivu, was being pushed aside for the flashy Kovalev and the team went down the tubes. It wasn’t until Kovalev was ditched and the Habs brought in guys like Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, and especially Michael Cammalleri, that they started to turn it around.
Predictably with so many changes last summer, the Habs had a tough time adjusting and were middle-of-the-pack for most of the 2009-10 season – barely squeaking into the post-season to boot. But once they got there, as a fan – a true fan – you could just tell something special was on the verge of happening.
While Kovalev-lovers were predicting a fast first-round exit at the hands of Ovechkin and the Caps, the people who really understand the game knew that it was actually a dream matchup. The Capitals are rotten to the core and will never win a championship with Ovechkin as their captain – look no farther than how the Canadiens shut him down in the series as evidence: 109 points in the regular season… just 10 in the series. That might be impressive for a lot of players, but he’s supposed to be an unstoppable superstar!
Crosby had been looking awfully Ovechkinesque
I’ll be straight here – the second I found out the Habs would be facing the Penguins in Round 2 I said game over. There was no way the Sidney Crosby-led Pens – the defending Stanley Cup Champions! – were going to lose to Montreal. I called Pens in 5 right off the bat. But then just before the first game, I looked at my wife and said… or Habs in 7.
Why? I do believe the Penguins are a better team than the Canadiens, but two factors are at play. First, Crosby has simply been shut down by Hal Gill and now PK Subban and the result is that he’s turned into the “Cindy Crybaby” character from earlier in his career; second, the Canadiens – led by the likes of Gionta, Gomez and Cammalleri have been playing with an unbelievable amount of heart. And, of course, let’s not forget that goalie Jaroslav Halak has been playing out of his friggin’ mind.
Now as Game 7 looms tonight, it just feels like the Canadiens are too determined to lose this thing. They are giant killers because of their giant hearts, and I’m surer than ever that tonight the Habs are going to play David to the Pens’ Goliath.