The playoffs are like a mini-season, with all a regular season's ups and downs, passions, pitfalls and challenges, condensed under pressure into a quarter of the time and sprinkled with a healthy dose of emotion. Sometimes, out of that mix, comes a little bit of magic, and it's the magic that makes the difference.
All sixteen teams that went into the playoffs this year had talent. They all had a decent-or-better goalie, good coaching and players who wanted to win the Cup. Not all of them had the magic that comes from a mix of guys who believe in themselves and fight for each other. I don't know how far it can carry them, but the Canadiens have that.
Playoff magic makes heroes. In the first round, Jaro Halak wrote himself into the history books with his magnificent, series-stealing preformance against the most potent offence in the league. Hal Gill emerged as a literal tower of shot-blocking, self sacrifice, Josh Gorges proved himself a passionate, well-spoken leader and Mike Cammalleri showed his ability to score when the team's most desperate isn't confined to the regular season.
This time around, it's PK Subban. This is a kid who, one year ago, was in the thick of the Memorial Cup playoffs in Belleville. He should, if the hockey gods weren't cruelly dismantling the Habs' blueline, be helping the Bulldogs to the Calder Cup this spring. But Fate has spoken and the kid finds himself bolstering Team Adversity's defence. Last night, he played nearly thirty minutes to lead both teams in icetime, and he looked like a wily veteran while he was at it, despite his sparse ten games of NHL experience. There was one sequence RDS showed mid-game that really underlined what the kid's capable of providing. The camera isolated him working against Crosby, and Subban mirrored the Pens' captain move for move. Crosby's patented stops and starts and quick turns in tight quarters are meant to confound defencemen who don't skate as well as he does, and usually it works perfectly. Not last night, though. Subban's one hell of a skater and living proof that mobility in a defenceman is as great a weapon as a bullet point shot or the ability to lay a huge bodycheck. This guy is going to be a very, very good NHL player for a long time. He's the kind of find that can salvage Trevor Timmins' reputation.
Last night was special for Max Lapierre too. He's responding to the passion of the Montreal crowd with another level of play. The game winner he scored was a thing of beauty we wouldn't have seen from him during the season just past. And how about Jaro Spacek? The guy came into the game after not having been on the ice in weeks and not only scored a vital goal, but also looked extremely sharp on defence in the missing Hal Gill's spot. Mike Cammalleri is earning his money and any playoff bonus that may be in his contract with his performance.
For anyone who thinks Tomas Plekanec isn't a big reason why Crosby is so mad in this series, a comment the whiny baby made to reporters after the game last night is pretty telling. When asked about the scrum at the end of the game, someone asked Crosby whether there was something in particular that set him off. Crosby said, "No. It's just Plekanec." Pleks has Crosby good and angry this series. The big whiner is cornering the officials after every period to complain. He even did it after the first last night, when the Pens had carried a lot of the play and Crosby himself had scored his first of the series (incidentally, while he was on the ice against the Lapierre line instead of Plekanec's.)
I don't know how long a team can run on heart and magic, but so far the ride has been a whole lot of fun. I don't want the spell to be broken just yet, and I think the illusionists in the CH might just have one more trick up their red, white and blue sleeves.