Thursday, May 13, 2010

Habs Fans Loving the 2010 Playoffs...


“I don't claim we're this great team, I don't claim we're perfect and I don't claim that everything we do is on purpose; I think we're just finding ways to win.”

- Mike Cammalleri to the Associated Press after the Game 7 victory.

As the second round of the NHL playoffs conclude, it is safe to say at this point that everyone's playoff pool has been destroyed. The top five teams in the Eastern Conference have officially packed up their gear for the summer. Boston and Philadelphia, the sixth and seventh seeds are preparing for Game 7 of their series and the Montreal Canadiens, the eighth seed in the Conference, are already awaiting the victor; preparing for their first Eastern Conference Final since 1993.

Alex Ovechkin is on summer vacation, as is Buffalo’s Ryan Miller. With the 5-2 loss to the Canadiens last night, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are packing their lockers today and thinking about how nice the dressing room will be next season in the new Pittsburgh arena. While the NHL will take a hit with the loss of their biggest names, the fact that the most storied franchise in league history has advanced to the next round will ease the pain. The playoffs are called the NHL’s “second season” for a reason; every team starts with zero wins and zero losses and anything can happen, especially if you are Les Glorieux, the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.

While it is unfair to call this playoff run an exact replay of the 1986 or 1993 Stanley Cup, those were different teams winning for different reasons, it does have a familiar feel for older Habs fans. However, it is a completely new feeling for the younger ones. With the last Stanley Cup parade happening 17 years ago, a generation of Habs fans only know their team as mediocre. This is their first opportunity to witness a lengthy playoff run in person, not in the history books.

Obviously, the story of this playoff run is headlined by the play of Jaroslav Halak and the goal scoring of Mike Cammalleri. The young Montreal net minder’s play has conjured up comparisons to Hall of Fame members St. Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden. While Roy and Dryden hold the franchise’s top-nine spots for playoff wins in one season, Halak is currently on pace to establish the franchise mark for best save percentage in the post season with his .933% through two rounds.

Cammalleri’s 12 goals through two rounds of the playoffs has matched Guy Lafleur (74-75) and Jean Beliveau (55-56) for playoff goals in one season and he trails Frank Mahovlich by two goals (14 in 70-71) and Yvan Cournoyer by three (15 in 72-73). For a young man that grew up in Richmond Hill Ontario, Cammalleri has truly embraced the history of the Montreal franchise, the city and the opportunity to shine in La Belle Province.

“I really appreciate the way the fans are cheering for me,” Cammalleri told Montreal Canadiens.com. “What else can I say but ‘Merci Beaucoup’?”

The effort put forth by the entire team has brought the Habs past the President Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals, and the defending Stanley Cup Champions from Pittsburgh. The experience brought into the dressing room with the addition of players like Hal Gill, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez and Travis Moen has proved invaluable. The play of Dominic Moore, Maxim Lapierre and Tom Pyatt has been incredible; all three have registered a game winning goal in the playoffs.

Montreal fans have also witnessed the emergence of defencemen Josh Gorges (perhaps the front-runner for team captain next season), and PK Subban (perhaps next season’s Rookie of the Year). Both have become leaders on the ice, carrying the weight of increased minutes with the injuries to Spacek, Gill and Markov with little difficulty. In his professional hockey career, Subban has two regular season games under his belt, with two assists. In the 2010 playoffs, he has played nine games and has scored his first NHL goal to go along with three assists. He has been on the ice in many key situations and except for a few mistakes along the way, his skating and puck handling abilities has dazzled the fans and the opposition.

Perhaps my friend Jason in Montreal, a regular reader of TVOS and a life-long Habs fan summed up the situation best in a recent exchange of emails. After last night’s victory, he wrote, “I can’t believe this is happening,” and he went on to express what a lot of fans are thinking in Montreal after knocking off two of the NHL’s best teams and biggest stars. “I said the same thing after the Washington series and I’ll say it again,” Jason wrote. “Whatever happens happens... it is all gravy from here.”

Wherever this wild ride ends up, fans of the Canadiens have gotten a glimpse of the glory days and love it... Hopefully, the ride continues for a few more rounds...

Photo by Clydeorama on Flickr.com.

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