Sunday, April 20, 2008

Nearer My God to Thee

Okay, okay...I know history has said the Titanic's band was actually playing "Autumn" as the ship went down. But the legend that says it was "Nearer My God to Thee" fits my mood better. I said yesterday I still have a little flicker of hope the Habs, on the wrong end of momentum and with virtually no confidence left, will surprise me and pull off a win to finally eliminate the Bruins. There's a romantic in me that just won't give up. But, realistically, the Bruins have everything going for them. Their system is stifling the Canadiens' skating, and the Habs' game is based on their skating. Slow them down and the slick passes don't work, the shots are safely from the perimeter and they end up grinding on the boards, which is a game they don't play well. My logical mind says there's no reason why a team that's been outplayed for five straight games should be able to suddenly turn it around. Sure, they'll play with desperation, but the Bruins will be desperate too...only with confidence.

So, I have resolved that if (when) our team goes down, we should all go down with dignity. Angry Habs' fans are running around, blaming the coaching, slagging the players and cursing management for not getting more guys who play like the Bruins. While it's true that Carbonneau and staff have been outcoached by Julien, some of the players haven't shown up in every game and more tough grinders would probably have made a difference in this series, we can't forget that this is our team. This is the team that gave us one hell of an entertaining season. In a year that began with many of us predicting a sixth-to-twelfth place showing...most of us leaning toward the bottom of that range...our guys finished first. And not in a boring way, either. They gave us thrilling comebacks, exciting blowout wins, shutouts and six months of general enjoyment.

Just because they're tanking now, we shouldn't forget everything that brought us to this point. It was a wonderful surprise to end up first in the east. But we have to remember that the team is still rebuilding and that there are weaknesses. The main problem the Habs have had all year is finding a way to beat teams that forecheck heavily and put pressure on their defence. It was easy to overlook that problem when most teams didn't play that style against Montreal...instead, getting trapped into playing the Canadiens' speed game. But remember Gainey night? Every once in a while a team like the Columbus Blue Jackets or the Florida Panthers would come along and remind the Canadiens of their Achilles heel once again. So, it should be no great shock that a good coach like Claude Julien has keyed in on the Habs' worst flaw...their inability to counter a strong forecheck. It's worked to perfection, and Bob Gainey will surely address that weakness in the off-season. But the fact remains, that for now, during this playoff, the weakness is there and if the Bruins didn't key on it, another team would. That doesn't take away from the improvement the Habs have made this year.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not the breed of Canadiens' fan anyone can accuse of having become complacent about losing. I want a Cup every year. I want it badly. I'm really, really tired of waiting for the franchise to turn around. So, if (when) the Habs bow out, it will hurt. It will burn. Bruins' fans will laugh and TSN panelists and certain unmentionable members of the cast of HNIC will gloat. It's going to stick in our craws for a long, long time to come. We'll be angry and disappointed and embarrassed and all the other things that you feel when your team gets humiliated. But, since we can't do anything about it, we should at least be dignified in defeat. All the people talking about not watching the game because they can't bear the pressure, or because they'll be too pissed if (when) the Habs lose, are wrong.

We've followed these guys all year long. A lot of us have watched every single game and some of us have paid good money to attend the Bell Centre in person. It was a great year. The players surprised us with their team play and their quick development from prospects to important contributors. There's a great future ahead as the team continues to grow. So, I, for one, will be putting on my tophat and tails and tuning up my cello to play the team out as it goes down by the bow.

I hope you'll join me.

1 comment:

Anvilcloud said...

I believe that how you win or lose says much about a person. You have to be able to do both with grace, especially losing because in sports we all lose more than win. There was a time when that was not all that true for the Habs, but it has long since become the norm again.