Check out our Habs! They've got a roster filled with rookies, including a 20-year-old goalie who won a Calder Cup last year and has replaced his veteran mentor for the playoffs. He started the season strong with his first NHL win in Pittsburgh, and has had some up-and-down patches since then, but he's coming on strong down the stretch. There's a big, tough American defenceman in his fourth year with the Habs who takes care of business in his own end, hits like a truck and blocks shots like a goalie. There's the slick Slavic defenceman who quarterbacks the PP and can skate his way out of his own end with ease, and the young European having a career season on the scoreboard. There's the team's leading scorer...a Euro stickhandling wizard who's very difficult to stop on the rush. And the young, slick-skating heart-and-soul guy who kills penalties, and pops 20+ goals a year. There's the French kid who irritates the hell out of the opposition, can score a timely goal and wants to win more than anything. And the savvy vets who've ramped up their game in the playoffs before and probably can be counted on to do it again. The GM...a veteran of multiple Cups as a Hab and a young Francophone coach about to head into his first post-season.
Do all those guys sound familiar? Of course they do...they're Price, Komisarek, Markov, Plekanec, Kovalev, Higgins, Lapierre, Koivu, Hamrlik, Gainey and Carbonneau. Right?
Wrong. They're Roy, Ludwig, Svoboda, Dahlin, Naslund, Carbonneau, Lemieux, Gainey, Robinson, Savard and Perron.
The 1985-86 Habs had an awful lot in common with this year's version of the team. Admittedly, the team of 22 years ago had nine rookies in the lineup, including a 20-year-old Roy, and this year's team has only five first-year players, including 20-year-old Price. But '86 featured four second-year players and no third-years, while today's Habs have three second years and three third years. Both teams were/are very young. The average age of the team in '86 was 24.1 years...today, it's 27.25. But that's counting veteran scrubs like Brisebois, Dandenault and Smolinski who are all in their thirties and skew the age average.
Neither team was expected to win much. This year's Habs were predicted by just about everyone to finish out of the playoffs. The '86 team struggled through a rookie/veteran divide for a large part of the season and was at risk of missing the playoffs until very late in the season.
Both teams replaced veteran, reliable goaltenders with untested kids who'd had up-and-down regular seasons. Both teams were regarded as playoff question marks because their netminders had no playoff experience, other than winning AHL championships the year before.
Both teams have Guy Carbonneau and Bob Gainey. True...Carbonneau was a kid and Gainey the captain then, while they're now coach and GM respectively. But they influenced the team with their style of play and hockey philosophy both then and now.
Veteran players like Naslund and Robinson had great years to get the team into the playoffs. So are Kovalev and Markov this year.
And both teams give you the same feeling...that sense that spring is near and the planets are aligned. Whether this year's team can keep up with the past they shadow remains to be seen. Can Price duplicate the famous Roy overtime from game 3 against the Rangers in '86? Can someone step it up and provide the timely killer goals Lemieux did back then? Will the Habs prevail in overtime of game seven, like they did against Hartford 22 years ago? We'll be watching and hoping they can.
A lot of people this year are comparing the team to the '93 Cup winners. I don't see the similarities there, really. They were a tough, veteran team with several proven stars that was among the favourites for the playoffs that year. I think that comparison is coming up so often because, sadly, it's the last Cup many of today's fans can remember the team winning. But they compare because they feel something special happening and '93 is the only reference point they have for that feeling. The win twenty-two years ago is in the long-forgotten past for many faithful.
But you know what they say: Those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.