When a hockey team is nearly a hundred years old, and has played thousands of games, it's tough to find something it hasn't done before. Well, the Habs have done it. Down 5-0 to the Wretched Rangers and looking to be swept in the season series, they came back. Boy, did they come back!
The game to me is a series of freeze-framed images. Michael Ryder's laser-accurate shot on his first goal. Tomas Plekanec winning draw after draw when it really counted. Alex Kovalev falling over backwards from the kick of his shot on the tying goal. Andrei Markov morphing into Bobby Orr and seeming to be everywhere at once. Cristobal Huet stoning the Rangers in the shootout and leaping into Mike Komisarek's arms. The smiles on every single player's face as they filed into the dressing room. I still can't believe it really happened.
But now, in the harsh light of day, as we bask in the glow of a team united, we have to wonder how long it will last. Bob Gainey is in Florida as the season barrels toward the trade deadline on Tuesday. The pundits say he's the busiest GM at the meetings, and that the Habs are the Canadian team most likely to make a deal. There's talk of Higgins for Hossa, and Ryder and a pick for Tanguay. Gainey himself has admitted wanting to add an "A" player. An "impact" player.
That sounds good in theory. And, placing the euphoria of last night's comeback at arm's length and assuming the cold eye of analysis, it even makes sense on paper. There *are* ingredients the Habs still lack, which common sense says need to be acquired if the team is to seriously contend for the Cup. Things like a big winger for Koivu, a shut-down centre and maybe one more top-four defenceman with an edge and some playof experience. Possibly a bit of sandpaper and size.
But there's one thing the Habs have that even some of the greater teams in terms of pure talent don't. They have real chemistry. The reason that comeback worked is because every player on the team went to the wall for his mates. They supported each other and fought for each other. And that cohesion is rare and precious. Sure, Gainey might add Hossa or Tanguay, but he risks losing something more than a Higgins or Ryder in the process. Adding and subtracting players at this point, when the team has become one unit in spirit and in execution, is as great a risk as it is to hope the new player fulfills expectations.
Cristobal Huet and Michael Ryder...two of the often-mentioned names in trade scuttlebutt...played crucial roles in that team resurrection last night. It may have still worked without them. And it may not have. The problem it creates for Bob Gainey is now his decisions have become much more difficult. The temptation is for him to continue with his plans to improve the team for a playoff run. But now it's become clear the consequences of giving into temptation may be much more serious than originally thought.
If chemistry is the cost of doing business, it might be time for Gainey to close the shop.