It's a constant source of amazement to me how a group of hockey players, with a goal and the determination to achieve it, can rise above their individual skill levels to achieve great things. It's the story of the underdog, and we saw the Canadiens do it last playoffs. It's equally amazing that the same group, without that goal or determination, can become a disjointed collection of individuals, unable to do much of anything.
We'll have to hope the Habs will have a goal and find the collective will to play for it during the playoffs, because if they approach Game One against whomever like they took on the Sens last night, they might as well give up the ghost now. That was one lousy hockey game. It's probably unfair to contrast it with a gem like the one against Chicago, but you can't really help seeing the difference between a motivated, focused Canadiens team and whatever the hell they were doing last night.
Admittedly, they were coming off the emotional high of clinching their playoff spot in a great game on Tuesday and were probably not too driven last night. Every team is allowed to have those motivation holidays once in a while, especially after a game in which they've given their all. They did get a point, despite a pretty abyssmal team effort, so that's good.
Now, though, it's time to shake off the lethargy and get down to business. The concern after a game like last night's is that the gentle mental relief that comes from coasting can become contagious. It's like working long hours hauling cement on a construction site for months, then taking a vacation in Hawaii. When it's time to go back to the construction job, you drag your feet and have a hard time getting up on the first morning. For a team like the Habs, which can't win without absolute commitment, slipping into holiday mode can be dangerous.
The Toronto game tomorrow will be a test for the Canadiens. Even though the leafs will be golfing next week, they've been playing hard since the All-Star break, and they'll bring it against the hated Habs. The Canadiens don't really need to win the game, but they have to be competitive. They'll be going into the playoffs as an underdog (again) and they need to be in the right mindset. They'll say the playoffs are a whole new season, but no matter how hard you try to believe that, it's the way you finish the regular season that sets the tone for the spring. The Habs have a big enough job ahead of them without entertaining self-doubts engendered by sliding into the playoffs on a two-game losing streak.
We need reassurance too, that the Chicago game wasn't a one-off. All the coasting around and soft play we saw last night can be erased by a good effort against Toronto. Basically, the Sens game was an emotional let down. The leafs game will be a tune up for the playoffs. We'll know a little bit more about the Canadiens' preparation for their coming role as underdogs.