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.