Monday, April 21, 2008

Elimination Schmelimination

To quote Britney, "Oops, I did it again." I confess, I didn't believe.

Back in the winter, when the Habs were down 2-0, then 3-1 in the third to a Devils team and goaltender whose name has been an oath around my house for years, I didn't believe they could come back and win. Why would I? They never would have before. Too often, my little spark of hope had been quenched by defeat, only to be relit for the next game, then extinguished again. Yet, they got it together in that Devils game and clawed back to beat New Jersey at home for the first time since the invention of the shootout.

Then in February, I watched them go down five to nothing to the Rangers. I turned away, again never believing a comeback possible. I was wrong again, as Michael Ryder found his scoring touch, Kovalev took over and Cristobal Huet was spectacular in the shootout.

So I should have believed last night. Despite the lousy performances in the previous two games, and the fact that the Bruins had imposed their game on the Canadiens for the previous five. I should never have doubted the Habs could pull it together when it really counted. But I have been too many years a fan without a team...a real team...for which to cheer. Sure, there's been a group of guys skating around with the CH on their chests and making the money that goes along with that. But they've rarely been a team that can find depths inside themselves to counter adversity or beat long odds. It's been a long time since we could look at that group of men in red and see not Saku Koivu and a supporting cast, but instead see the lines blur and the individuals merge into a single entity. Like the old story about a single stick being easy to snap, while a bundle of sticks remains unbroken, the Canadiens remembered last night that they are a team. And a team is a lot harder to break than a group of individuals.

I remember reading in "The Game" how, for Bob Gainey, the team was everything. He learned the lessons of strength in numbers and sacrificing individual glory to win back in his junior days in Peterborough. When he went free agent shopping last summer, I think he really wanted to bring home a big name. But when that didn't work out, he went for smaller parts, but parts that shared his ideal of what "team" means. Tom Kostopoulos would go through a wall for his teammates and thinks the greatest smell in the world is "the smell of victory." Bryan Smolinski is a warrior who cranked it up when it counted, after what looked like a lazy regular season. Patrice Brisebois is, by all accounts, a great teammate who still gives it his all when called upon. (The fact that I think he's called upon too often and his all often results in unfortunate giveaways is beside the point.) The point is, Bob Gainey has built a real team. Watching Saku Koivu, Chris Higgins, Mike Komisarek, Carey Price and Tomas Plekanec fight for that win last night is making me forget the days of disappointment.

They may still go down, maybe even in the next series. But I've learned not to stop believing. Because this is a team that can find a way, even when it looks like all the odds are against them.

1 comment:

16 to Silver said...

Well, well, well – as R.L. Burnside, would say. So, you didn’t believe. Well, maybe you’re learning, just the way Les Boys are learning. It was a pretty wild day out here in the West. We’re on Day 4 of a snowstorm that’s dumped about 6 inches on Edmonton and the white stuff is still falling, which is very bad for my summer tires. So bad so that my girlfriend had to come pick me up in her Nissan Pathfinder and take me to her place to watch the game (I don’t’ have a TV). I’ve teased her about the size of that boat, but no more – never again will I call it ‘The Good Ship Lollipop’. I shovelled her front walks.

And stranger than the weather was the first time in a long time that I agreed with Don Cherry. I watched a little of him at the end of the game because I wanted to laugh. But he called it right: the bruins shot their bolt in G 6. The Habs just plain wore the bears down (my words, not his).

On a more jovial note, I deal with the media here in Edmonton and some folks around town know me as being a Habs fan, so, the CBC Radio drive-home show had me on yesterday. The host and I talked around noon to do the background thing and I found out he was a Habs fan growing up in Nanaimo. So, I wasn’t surprised when we went on air and what was supposed to run 5 or 6 minutes stretched out to closer to 10 – we were having fun. I made sure to get in a couple digs at Cherry about how its admirable the way he recycles drapes and turns them into wearing apparel, and I also made mention of his lingering bitterness over the May 10, 1978 OT loss that was brought on by the too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty – stressing that that is a coach’s penalty. No bold predictions about our winning, but I offered that we’d be “loaded for bear”. However, most amazing thing of the day was CP – ‘Mr. Ice’. Two shutouts. And more to come, I wager.

Finally, a couple observations: Chara and his 56-inch stick vs our powerplay – we won’t see them again and I hope our power play looks as good as it did when he was in the penalty box. Also, did anyone else notice that Cherry wore black and yellow for the first and last games of the series? I wonder if we could pay him to wear team colours for our next opponents…theirs, not ours.

Yesterday was a great day, and today’s pretty good, too. Even with all the snow. Thanks for taking my post.