Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Aftermath: Wow

There's a well-known kids' book called "Lily and Her Purple Plastic Purse." In it, a little mouse is in awe of her teacher and the recurring line in the story is, "Wow. That's just about all she could think of to say. Wow." Lily the mouse and I are on exactly the same page today.

Once again, a group of men who pooled their talents to play as a single entity proved the iron-clad rule of hockey: It's a team game. A team will always beat a talented collection of individuals. We saw it in the Olympics with Team Russia, which should have crushed everyone. We saw it again in this series. The Caps have a ton of talent, but they have not yet learned to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the team.

The Canadiens, on the other hand, had so many players give to the common cause, it's hard to single anybody out. I guess that's the point of a team game, right? Jaro Halak, though, has to top the list of guys who deserve a special nod. He stopped 131 of the 134 shots against him in the last three gutwrenching games, in which the Habs clawed their way out of the trench they'd dug for themselves, and over the top. He's been lauded everywhere from TSN to the complaints of frustrated Caps fans, who are shaking their heads in rueful wonder, but he deserves it.

Josh Gorges deserves special notice too. Gorges doesn't play a flashy game, and he'll never be nominated for the Norris trophy. He spends twenty-plus minutes a night fighting for every inch of ice against bigger, more talented, often dirtier opponents. Most of the time, he wins those personal battles and very seldom does he do anything that could hurt his team. He was a shot-blocking machine in this series, and a penalty-killing god. I thought it interesting that when the TSN guys were discussing the Habs lack of a captain, Pierre McGuire said most of the players in the room consider Gorges the captain, no matter whether he wears a letter. A player has to earn that kind of respect through sacrifice for the common good, and that's Gorges' game.

Max Lapierre saved himself in the playoffs. He was non-existent in the regular season. I can count on one hand the number of games in which I noticed him for good reasons. His performance in the post-season, however, reminds me of a comment he made three years ago. He said, "If I have to break my nose to make the playoffs, I'll do it." His speed and determination were huge factors in the last two games. Even McGuire, who spent half the year ragging on Laps for being a gutless yapper, said last night that Lapierre is a lot better hockey player than people think.

Hal Gill and his trusty sidekick, Saviour the ten-foot hockey stick, seemed like they were on the ice for the entirety of the last three games. The transformation in him from regular-season to playoffs was incredible. The guy who got beaten one-on-one this year, who got caught pinching or fumbled the puck or screened his own goalie, has vanished. Now we see a shot-blocking, penalty-killing beast in his place. It's like Clark Kent went into the phone booth and came out as Superman. I don't know how much gas Gill has in the tank for the remainder of the playoffs, but he was something else in the first round.

Tom Pyatt is making me think Bob Gainey won the Gomez trade. The kid is fast, gritty and incredible defensively. You rarely ever see him make a dumb mistake, but very often see him do something useful to relieve pressure on his goalie.

Tomas Plekanec has proven he's not a little girl and he's not a question mark in the playoffs. He put up the points, but he also played with toughness and smarts. A couple of times last night...the way he covered for a pinching Markov on D to foil an odd-man rush, and a particularly timely deflection-out-of-play on an Ovechkin shot in the third come to mind...he reminded us that he's an exceptional all-around player.

The coaching staff did what they had to do, and did it well. Martin made good roster choices in the last three games, and handled his lines well. Muller ran the PK like Secretariat ran the Triple Crown. And Perry Pearn, the guy most of us have either completely dismissed or scorned this year, handled the defence masterfully. I confess, I thought Pearn only got the job in Montreal because he's Martin's guy. Then, about a month ago, I read a piece about Mike Babcock, in which he named his early coaching mentors. First among them? Perry Pearn. I'd still like to see the Habs at least have a defence consultant who's actually played the position, but Pearn did well in a series that was won on defence.

Mike Cammalleri came through like a champ in the series. Mired in a wretched scoring drought to end the regular season, he stepped it up and did what he's supposed to do in the Caps' end. He was a calm, rational presence publicly, and a force on the ice.

Gomez, Gionta and Moen proved why they're former Cup winners, and why Bob Gainey wanted to bring them in to revive a franchise in need of a heart transplant. Those guys gave it everything they had, and it was enough.

Dominic Moore and Glen Metropolit fought to contain bigger, stronger opponents...with a significant injury in Metro's case...and did the job well. Moore's goal last night was icing on the hard-working cake for him.

Every player on the team contributed in some way to winning this series. There's a school of thought that says a real team is built through adversity. If that's so, then the Habs are certainly the real deal. They've dealt with finding their places among an entirely new group, weathering injury after injury, and scratching into the playoffs when they looked like they had nothing left to give. In this series itself, they defied detractors by taking on the best team in the league and staying with them right through seven games. They struggled through crushing losses at home and in OT after blowing a huge lead. Still, they found a way to rally from a deficit from which no eighth-see has ever recovered before. They proved everyone wrong. If adversity is good for team-building, the Habs have passed that particular seminar with flying colours.

It's going to be tough to top this because Pittsburgh is a much different class of team than the Caps, but for today, our little team that could is on top of the world.

Wow. That's about all I can think of to say. Wow.

14 comments:

moeman said...

Great read J.T. I'd add Kirk Muller's steady influence behind the benCH. methinks J.M. is finally listening and allowing Kirk to 'shake' things up (and sometimes calming things down, eg. running the timeout discussions) during games. Go Habs!

Anvilcloud said...

I think the heart transplant that you mentioned is the key: not just for the present but for the future. Hopefully, all present and future Habs will learn from these warriors. I think it's safe to say that we have implemented a new culture; it must be guarded carefully, for we cannot return to the old ways. No more Kovys please.

Habs_Resurgence said...

Everyone contributed except AK46. He looked as if it was Game 7 of the regular season last night. Completely lost out there, and didn't win 1 frikkin battle all night. Everyone else has stepped it up....now it's his turn. Yes, he showed he's capable with the hat trick in Game (which we ironically lost), but to have one good game in a 7 game series is just not good enough. I know the options are thin at this point, but I'd even consider throwing his little brother in his place (maybe even Moore?) and put his ass either in the press box or 4th line.

MC said...

Other than happiness, the emotion I am channeling today is redemption.

Redemption for Jaro Halak who has struggled for years in the shadow of Carey Price, and despite outplaying Carey for years was almost traded this year. Now he is being compared to Dryden and Roy.

Redemption for MAB and Moore who were both left on the trash heap in the off season. Any team could have had them, now they are game seven heros.

Redemption for Jacques Martin and his system that was mocked all year, but now is being credited for giving the Habs the structure needed to win.

Redemption for Hal Gill who was critised all year for being to slow and not tough enough, but played over 25 mins a game to help shut down one of the best offensive teams in recent memory.

And redemption for Bob Gainey who was critised by fans and experts for building a team of smurfs who could not win in the playoffs. The silence about the Habs' lack of size is now glorious.

Anonymous said...

Nope. As much as I love to read your blog (first thing in the morning because I love your humor) I won't come back, I can promise you, I won't come back unless you tip your hat to MAB (or "Bergy" as his playmates call him). He scored our first goal with his famous sniper attack! Okay, he frustrates me when he looses the pucks at times, but those shots he makes, the ones that are dead-on, the one like last night that brought as to victory cannot, should not got without mention and credit.

I want a paragraph on MAB. I want a paragraph on MAB. (picture me with my arms crossed, frown on forehead, sitting cross-legged in a corner...).

Really, it's imperative.

J.T. said...

@anon: Smacks self in forehead. I honestly meant to mention MAB, but there were so many heroes, I forgot.

How's this: Marc-Andre Bergeron spent the first part of the season on the scrap heap; a cannon without an army. The small benefits of Markov's long-term injury include a better-rested Markov for this time of the year, and the introduction of that cannon to the Habs' arsenal. MAB has his flaws, which we've all documented. But when he blasts one at the most desperate moment like he did last night, we just have to be grateful he's on our side.

V said...

The thing about Hal Gill is that this is exactly what he did to Washington last year. I was hoping for Washington against Pittsburg last year and I was amazed at how Gill blocked every second shot and no one could go around him.

This is the guy I felt Gainey went after. He was wonderful last year and this year.

And I feel great for Bob Gainey. Noticing his critics are very quiet this morning... as they typicall have been when things have gone right for the team. I don't miss them.

DB said...

C'mon it was never in doubt. I mean how often during the regular season did the Habs give up late game-tying or game-winning goals?

I thought the third period was never going to end. I'd look at the clock and think "Damn it why aren't you moving faster?". I didn't know if I was relieved, stunned or exhilarated when the game was finally over.

You've got to hand it to Hal Gill. He may look like a giraffe on skates, but he gets the job done. And then there's Josh Gorges. He must be made of rubber or have spidey-sense because he can go into the corners with larger players, absorb and avoid checks, and come out with the puck.

Today is a good day to be a Habs fan, especially here in leafland.

Anonymous said...

Ahhhhhhh....I feel much better now and have returned to having a crush on you. One more favor? Can you cut and paste that piece to the post where it will look better? Thanks!

Your friend from the left coast, soon moving to Montreal...(this summer!!)

Anonymous said...

Do you remember your post "A Quick Poll While We Wait" ????

Now let's answer those questions again!!!

Mr Trivia said...

I feel like a 16 year-old experiencing love for the first time. The world is a beautiful place today.

V said...

One of the best things I have read about the team today is the lack of celebration they undertook last night. Apparently JM met with them for 20 minutes after the game and when the door opened to the media, everyone was as calm and sober as he normally is and already focusing on Pittsburg.

If that is true, it sounds like they have this Washington series in the proper perspective... a step toward something bigger and not much more.

I like it.

Anonymous said...

Ah old friends...what a day...what a day that is.....the magic is back and for a second there I caught myself dreaming of Lord Stanley and how he must miss home.....
Welcome back Lord, we have been expecting your return...

Olivier

DKerr said...

JT,

Remember the discussion wondering if the Habs could enter into the playoffs with 2 specialists on their roster? MAB for the PP and Hal Gill for the PK. It seems to have worked with P.K. Subban pulling some of the even strength minutes we would normally cring at giving to MAB (JM figured out a few things lately). Gill turned from PK specialist to playoff specialist, which is great. The one thing I fear and you pointed it out is the thought that Lapierre may deem himself a playoff specialist. There's a young man that can't sleepwalk through a season and then play like he should in the playoffs - if everyone did that we would not make the playoffs. If the season ended right now, how would we view Lapierre going forward? Is he the guy who showed the occasional flash in the season or the guy running wild (in a good way) in the playoffs? It would be so much simpler if they all played like Gionta or Gorges - very easy guys to judge because their effort is always apparent.