I'm not watching any of the sports channels' prediction shows about the playoffs this year. Partly because they're almost always wrong and most of the predictors are a bunch of blowhards anyway. But also partly because dissecting every little thing about every series...powerplay, goaltending, physical and mental advantages...takes the fun out of it. How can you have a miracle when you're scrutinizing the thing under a jaundiced microscope? When you lay out the stark facts and analyze them to prove their truth, it's hard to believe something unexpected...something heroic...could happen.
It's like my dad says: "All the ghosts disappeared when the electricity came in." He means the mystery of sitting around by lamplight or candlelight, in the flickering shadows, allowed you to believe there might be something unearthly just outside the circle. Electricity took away the shadows and lit up the spaces where ghosts might have lurked...so ghost stories started to disappear.
It's the same thing with hockey. As long as there's mystery and shadow around a playoff series, we can hope and dream and believe that there's more to it than meets the eye. We can expect our team to rise to the occasion and do great things. But when we shine the cold light of analysis on it, belief fades into what must be inevitable because the stats and the commentators say it must be so.
So, I'm not watching the predictions shows and I hope Bob Gainey is instructing the players not to do so either. Even if the constant reminders of the Habs' underdog status and likely quick exit from the post-season could possibly be turned into a motivational tool, I think they're more likely to cement in the players' minds the belief that they're not supposed to win. What we need is a group of players that believe in themselves, despite all the common sense and predictions out there.
I remember in 1986, watching a team that finished with just 87 points...second in its division and fifth in its conference. Nobody expected that team, loaded with rookies, to do anything. But the veterans, like captain Bob Gainey, who'd been there before knew there's a bit of magic in the playoffs that a team can grab if it believes in itself and players play for each other. Those veterans took the kids by the hands and taught them what winning means. I wonder now though, if those young players were exposed to the kind of intense scrutiny and analysis of their game that today's players experience, whether they'd have really believed they could win?
Those of us who have watched all the games this year already know what the Habs are up against. We know their weaknesses and their opposition's strengths. We know the cost of missing players like Andrei Markov and Robert Lang. But as long as we're not listening to those who don't see an opportunity for a miracle in this series, then maybe we can still hope for one. I want that 1986 feeling back, when the only ones who believed that team could win were the unjaded fans, the players themselves...and the ghosts in the darkened rafters. And they did it. Predictions be damned.