I'm afraid I may not make it through the playoffs this year. As each year passes with no Cup for the Canadiens, I come to realize each opportunity is precious. I was young when the Habs won in '93, and, with the optimism of youth, thought I'd surely see another victory in the near future. Since then, I've graduated from university, established a career, got married, had kids and travelled the world. I've also aged 18 years and am facing the reality that I won't live forever and may, in fact, be dead before the Habs win again. So, every year, the stress about wasting another precious chance grows.
Last year was a blessed reprieve from the annual angst because I had very little hope entering the playoffs. The Habs had scraped into eighth in the last week of the season and were facing the powerhouse Capitals. Looking at it on paper, the Canadiens had an untried bunch of hired guns coming off a very up-and-down year, with an unproven playoff goalie. They should have had no chance, so I approached it accordingly. The win in the first game was great...no sweep! Going down three games to one was exactly what I expected to happen after that first win. Then the comeback started and each win was exciting, but not stressful. After all, they'd surely lose the next one, right? Then they didn't. The only stress I felt during the Caps series was during the last two minutes of Game Seven, when the Canadiens were clinging to a one-goal lead and had a real chance to win, against all the odds.
The same thing happened during the Penguins series. Surely, the luck of the Caps series wouldn't extend to beating the defending Cup champions, I thought. So, every win was just gravy until the Habs, once again, found themselves in the lead in an improbable Game Seven. The Flyers series...well, nobody expected the Canadiens' luck to hold so it was no surprise when they ran out of gas.
This year's different. The Canadiens have beaten the Bruins four times out of six this season. We know they can win the series. That gives us hope, and that means we're vulnerable to hope getting dashed. It was way easier, even zen-like, to enter last year's playoffs with no real expectation. Hoping to beat the Bruins is going to make us sweat every play, wring our hands over every goal against and descend into bitterness after every loss. We're going to go from the heights of joy when the Habs score to the depths of regret when the Bruins do. Our hearts will be working at a minimum 75% of capacity all the time, and we'll be dreaming of the thing Kostitsyn or Cammalleri or Gill should have done instead of the thing they did for nights at a time.
The matter will not be helped by the level of Bruins hate that will colour this series. I hate Chara and his mindless destruction of Max Pacioretty. I hate Lucic and his simian tendencies. I hate Thornton and his smug ability to score garbage goals against the Canadiens. I hate Thomas and his fat doughboy face with its stupid mustache. I hate Julien and his tendency to throw his goonish players out at the end of a lost-cause game. I hate Bruins fans with their "U.S.A." chant and their bloodlust. I hate their colours and their logo and their rink and their anthem singer. All that hate means I'm yearning for a Habs win, and that makes the stress level double.
In short, this series might kill me. The hope, expectation and hatred will combine in a toxic stress cocktail that could cause heart failure at any moment. I want to beat the Bruins so badly, it magnifies everything. The only thing that lends this any kind of perspective is imagining the level of stress that would be involved if the opponent were the leafs instead of the Bruins. I think that would unquestionably be fatal, so perhaps there's a chance of surviving the Bruins series. And the thought of a win...oh, a win against the Bruins!...is so sweet. The series might kill me, but a win could raise me from the dead.