In the Caps series, I think most of us were just glad for whatever high points we could find. A lot of us secretly thought our team would get beaten badly, even as we tried to put a good face on it. When they won the first game, we were glad it wouldn't be a sweep. When they began the soon-to-be-legendary comeback in Game Five, we started to believe there might be more to this team than appears on paper. Now, here we are in the second round, with the Pens still within beating range. I want a win tonight as much as I wanted Game Seven in the first round. Here's why:
10. The Molsons. The new owners have already taken in four games worth of playoff revenue and will make it five tonight. This is good for the team, because the more playoff money there is, the more the Molsons have to spend on things like dumping a big salary or two in the minors if it can't be traded. Owners making money are happy owners, and that's a positive for the Habs.
9. The NHL. By this, I mean mostly Gary Bettman. We know he's not keen on Canadian-based teams doing much in the playoffs because that doesn't help "grow the game" in his beloved southern markets. I would so love for the Habs to take down both of Bettman's league poster boys.
8. The Bruins. The hated Bs are going to the conference finals, barring a miracle comeback by the Flyers. We know the Habs have a good chance of beating them if they make it past Pittsburgh. It's the best chance the Habs would have had to make the Finals since 1993. This is a huge opportunity for the Canadiens, but they have to win tonight to have a real chance to grab it.
7. The Penguins. The Pens are the epitome of the "tank for glory" philosophy of some NHL teams. They've done it twice now: suck hard for years, grab all the top picks for two or three (or four or five) years and then stomp the rest of the league on their way to a Cup or two. Now, here they are, the NHL's darlings with their smug superstars and their bandwagon fans. Knocking them out with a team the NHL has relegated to mediocrity while it takes Habs' fans' money to support its pet projects would be very, very sweet.
6. The miracles. Tonight is a must-win because a team only gets so many miracles. Coming back against the Caps like that was one of them. Going down 3-1 to the Pens would push the miracle potential to the limit. It's better to just win this one and save any other miracles for later, when they'll be even bigger and more important.
5. The fans. For years now, fans have been selling out the Bell Centre, subscribing to RDS on cable packages that don't include it for free and buying anything with a Habs' logo on it, from Centennial stamps to game-worn jerseys. We love our Habs, and impress everyone else in the league with our passion and volume of support. The team has rewarded us with one playoff win on home ice in the last eight games. The fans deserve better. We also deserve for this not to be the last game at the Bell Centre this year.
4. The future. After the Centennial of Suck, a lot of the famous Canadiens mystique was exposed for what it really is these days: a glorious past with a dumbed-down inglorious present. The Habs image needs a bit of spit and polish from the current team because if the franchise is going to build itself a future, it can't rely on a past fewer and fewer fans have witnessed for themselves.
3. The fun. The playoffs are fun! After a long, sometimes frustrating 82-game regular season, played solely for the right to be in the playoffs in the first place, it's wonderful to watch games that actually mean something. The strategy, the smack-talk, the willingness of players to give a little bit more, the heroics and the upsets...it's all part of the grand pageant of the Stanley Cup playoffs and it's the best hockey we get to see outside the Olympics. We saw a lot of stuff this season that wasn't fun at all, and now that we're finally having some, I'm not ready for it to end.
2. The fairy tale. The upset over Washington got everyone talking about the Canadiens. Everyone, even people who normally hate the Habs, love an underdog and the Habs are the story of the playoffs. It takes a bit of magic to get people pulling for a team they don't normally support, and the Habs seem to have that this year. When we talk about the legacy of the Canadiens, it's really built on those magical, fairy tale playoff runs. It doesn't happen very often these days, and when it does, a team needs to grab it with both hands. We could be looking at another ten years of frustration after this year, so this opportunity is precious. We need them to keep the story going.
1. The team. The group that started the year introducing themselves to each other and learning about the guys sitting next to them have become a real team. Bob Gainey traded for and signed men with a willingness to put their bodies on the line for the sake of winning. They're individuals who have won before and those who want to win more than anything. They're leaders and they're determined. Most importantly, they're on the same page in their goals. They get along because they understand each other, and they all want the same thing. Along the way, they've overcome losing players to injury, bad officiating, demoralizing losses, physical pain, a terrible schedule and low expectations. It's not often you come across a group of players who buy into the team concept like this one does. Without superstars, they're doing it for each other, and I want to see them rewarded for that.
Go Habs! Win it tonight!