Of all the great moments from what turned out to be a great game last night, I think the very greatest was during a stoppage in play. The TV camera focussed on Bob Gainey, leaning against the pressbox wall in his shirtsleeves while he gazed down on the team he built for the playoffs. As we watched him smile in satisfaction after Brian Gionta scored the team's fifth goal, Penguins GM Ray Shero walked over and shook Gainey's hand, conceding the series.
Gainey has taken a lot of flack for being Silent Bob; the guy who came too late to the free agent party every year and who got rid of players for little or nothing in return. There's no doubt he made some mistakes in his tenure as GM, as has every other general manager in the league. In the end, though, the steely determination and courage Gainey showed in his playing career served him well again when it came time to revamp the team he once captained. He took a huge, ballsy chance when he dumped half of last year's group and rebuilt from the heart out. As Mike Cammalleri said last night, the criticism about the new guys' lack of size, and questions about their durability, have been heard loud and clear all season. Now it's stopped because those little guys, like Gionta and Cammalleri, have proven they can rock the playoffs. Gainey draft picks PK Subban and Jaro Halak have stepped up when it counts. Free agent signings Hal Gill and Jaro Spacek stabilized the blueline and Gainey's best trade acquisition, Josh Gorges, has played a huge role in shutting down the best offensive players in the world over the last fourteen games. Tomas Plekanec, who a lot of GMs would have tossed out with the rest of the disappointing players last year, vindicated Gainey's continued faith in him and harried Sidney Crosby into losing his cool every night. Gainey took a somewhat novel approach in constructing his playoff team, in that he didn't go for the most talent or the biggest bodies. Instead, he chose players who are clutch, who know how to win and who are prepared to give of themselves in a common cause. As we saw last night, hard work and team play can trump talent when it really matters.
Watching Gainey graciously accept his due from Shero was my favourite moment from last night. Also high on the list:
-Gionta's hand-eye coordination on the fifth goal. He's gifted, and he puts himself in the right spot to use his gift, heedless of the physical toll it takes.
-Cammalleri's one-knee one-timer, and his understated goal celebration.
-Halak's massive split save on Malkin.
-Also, Jaro's crazy rush out of the net to beat the Pens to the puck and foil a clear break. It nearly gave me a heart attack, but it was cool in retrospect.
-Hal Gill's big smile after the game, and his statement, "Winning is fun!" This, with no outward sign of the fifty-two stitches in his left calf muscle.
-PK Subban and Dominic Moore's victory chest-bump.
-Crosby getting called for cheap-shotting Gorges, then sitting in the box for the first goal of the game. Karma!
-Plekanec's work on the 4-on-3 PK. He didn't score, but he helped keep Crosby good and frustrated, and his assists count for something too.
-Andrei Kostitsyn's forecheck and interception on the Cammalleri goal. He's so good when he works.
-Lapierre laughing at Orpik after Moore's goal, which happened while Orpik was mauling Lapierre behind the net instead of standing in front of it, where he was supposed to be.
-Fleury getting yanked, then smashing his stick in the tunnel.
-Kirk Muller and Jacques Martin beaming in their lucky ties while they congratulated each other.
-Travis Moen's excellent PK work and scoring short-handed while Gonchar just gaped at him as he blew past. He worked like a Trojan all game and hit everything that moved. Nobody deserved to score more than him.
There were many others as well, but those are the moments that sparkle against the backdrop of a truly great game. This is a special team, and it's having a special playoff. I hope it culminates in some big, shiny hardware sometime in June, but even if it doesn't, if the only things you can ask of a team are that it give its best and never quit, we're getting that and more. It's been a long time since I've been so excited about the Habs, and I have to thank Bob Gainey for that.
Now, if you've got six minutes to spare, have a look at this. The great Stan Rogers was singing about a boat, but he could easily have written this about our team. Go Habs, go!