I wonder if I'm the only one who startled myself out of a sound sleep early this morning, heart racing, with the dawning realization that the playoffs are finally here? I suspect not. We might only have four more games to cheer/agonize over our Habs, but no matter what the odds, they're our team and we're with them. A few Habs-related thoughts on this playoff day, as we wait for the puck to drop:
-I'm really hoping les boys don't go with the playoff beards this year. I think the chin whiskers are cliche if the team advances, and embarrassing if it doesn't. Who wants to be eliminated with a half-assed week-old growth? That's not even worth shaving, let alone sporting for a few games. Underdogs should always be clean-shaven.
-The Hamilton Spectator had a nice article today about PK Subban's growth as a more well-rounded defenceman. The one thing that struck me in it, and a note of warning for all you fans who are screaming to have PK on the team yesterday, was a quote from Guy Boucher. He said, "We always want heroes and we want them fast, and the problem is that we kill them many times." If that's not a sobering...and true...idea, I don't know what is. Boucher doesn't think Subban is ready for the NHL yet, and I hope we don't see him with the Habs until he is. I think Carey Price can attest to the pain of being a failed hero in Montreal.
-Speaking of kids in Montreal, another bit of that Spectator article made me think of guys like Price and Latendresse. Subban himself mentioned how much he's learned about how to behave off the ice by spending the year in Hamilton. He was talking about lifestyle and moderating the amount of partying players can do without harming their game, but another comment he made was of even greater interest to me. He said, "There are guys here that have played pro for 10 years and have families and kids. They teach you things that the leaders on your team in junior can't." This is what I think privileged guys like Price and Latendresse missed out on by being promoted directly to the NHL. They didn't get to live side-by-side with guys who will never play in the big league, but work like dogs at the minor-league game because it puts bread on their family's table. They didn't get to see that not everybody gets the chances they get, and learn to really appreciate what they have. That's a vital lesson to learn in the rarified atmosphere of the NHL, in which it's very easy to forget how lucky you are. I hope the team keeps all its kids in the minors for a year from now on.
-A couple of things are scaring me about tonight. First off is the Bergeron/Markov pairing. I think this pair is fine on the PP, with Markov's vision and Bergeron's bomb. But the idea of them as a regular defence pair is frightening. I'm picturing huge, fast, aggressive, mulishly-strong Ovechkin barrelling down the left wing on small, not-strong, defensively-challenged Bergeron on right D. It's not a pleasant picture, but it's going to happen frequently because Martin will want Markov on the ice when Ovechkin is out there. Giving Ovy and supporting cast a two-out-of-three chance of facing Bergeron or Gill every time they take the ice is basically giving them the run of the Habs' zone. O'Byrne hasn't been perfect lately, but he's big, strong and mobile and doesn't frighten me like Bergeron does in this situation.
-The other scary...okay, maybe not scary, but worrying...thing is Jaro Halak. I love the guy. He's proven his consistency and ability to rise to the occasion many times over the last few years. What scares me is his stamina. He's played more games this season, 45, than he has since the 47 he played in junior in 2005. Thrown in the middle of that was a very intense, extremely busy Olympic tournament with a ton of cross-country travel. Add in the stress of trying to make the post-season and the fact that Halak has essentially already been playing playoff-level games in the last month, and I'm worried about him being a very tired goalie. I remember Price imploding against Philly two years ago, then remarking about how he was so tired from playing too much hockey in too short a time. I didn't like the way Halak looked slow and unprepared against Toronto last week, and I'm really hoping it was just a bad game, not exhaustion.
-Listening to the Habs this week talk about not knowing yet who they'll be matched up against is kind of disheartening. If Jacques the Knife plans to line-match with Boudreau, IN Washington, the Habs are doomed.
-Lots of people have been asking me to make predictions about the series. I tell them until I see the Habs on the ice for a period, I don't know what to think. Montreal is really an enigma of a team this year. So, I'll make only three predictions: 1. Gionta and Gomez will show up and really prove why they've won Cups before and why Bob Gainey wanted them, 2. Ovechkin will hurt a Hab with a borderline hit, but will not be disciplined by the league and 3. The special teams will make the difference in the series, and there will be at least one horrid call that will leave us screaming. That's as far as the crystal ball lets me see.
-I'm not expecting the Habs to win this series, but I've watched enough playoff games over the years to have learned not to write anybody off. All I'm really asking is that the Habs give it their best shot. The only thing that will disappoint me is if I see guys wearing the CH dogging it and conceding without a fight. So, go out and fight Habs, and make it fun!