Sometimes it's hard to be the bigger person, it's tough to be the nice guy and it's painful to be the good sport. When you invest as much emotionally in the team you follow as most loyal Habs fans do, it hurts when the years pass and all you have to assuage the hurt of another season's futility is the memory of past glory. We try to find the brighter side of playoff misses (Hey! A better draft pick!) and early eliminations (They're building toward the future!), but after a while, it all feels kind of empty.
I would like to think I've been a pretty good sport about the last 21 years of Habs incomplete playoff efforts, the immediate post-Patrick Roy years excepted. I've looked for the bright spots. I've tried to focus on Saku Koivu's heroic return from cancer, and not the bloody eye injury that cost his team a playoff run. I've given credit to better teams, luckier teams, healthier teams and more determined teams.
This year, though, I have to admit I'm sick of it. Sometimes, even the most patient, optimistic fans have just had enough. Watching and listening to the Bruins' behaviour before and during this series is infuriating because they don't take the high road. They take the lowest of the low roads, and they succeed. Then, when they do, they rub it in the faces of their opponents. They boast, they sneer, they talk about how much they hate the opposition. Then, on the ice, they complain about everything and when they score, they thump their chests, flex their biceps and leap into the glass on an empty-netter as though it's the Cup winner. They squirt water from the bench into the face of P.K.Subban while he's trying to play, foul players with their sticks and try to start dumb fights at the ends of games when it doesn't matter. Their fans throw bottles at opposing players and make thousands of racist comments on Twitter when a black guy beats them. The Bruins make few apologies for their crass behaviour, but, rather, revel in it. They expect to win, and they'll do whatever it takes to do so. Most gallingly, it works.
Habs fans have put up with a lot of this in the last 21 years. When the Bruins won on an overtime deflection in Game Seven in 2011, they acted as though they'd swept the Habs and their cockiness knew no bounds. And in the 2009 playoffs when a disjointed Habs team really did get swept by the Bruins, their fans spent the summer mocking Montreal mercilessly. Even in the 2002, 2004 and 2008 Canadiens wins over Boston, the whining, accusations of diving and cheating and the diminishing of the Montreal victories was ridiculous.
With another Game Seven on the horizon and somebody going home on Wednesday night, it's clear anything can happen. A blown offside call, a fluke bounce, an early PP, a key injury...nobody knows what little thing could turn the tide of the game and the series. Both teams have played very strong games, and could do so again. Logically, I'm aware of this. I know the Bruins are better on paper, yet the Habs have given them all they could handle in this series. I concede the Canadiens have shown some very positive signs of being a team on the rise, but this year, I want more.
I don't want to meet Bruins fans' gloating with a polite, "Your team did well." Not this year. I don't just want the Habs to win, I want, for once, the braggarts to go golfing. I want the team that's played the cleaner, more respectful game to walk out with the victory and their heads held high. The Canadiens have played this series the right way, and I want to see them rewarded for that. I want them to come out flying the way they did in Game Six and prove, by their play, that they deserve to win.
Today, I wore my red Habs sweater out shopping. People were smiling when they saw it, and folks I didn't know made a point to comment and say they were hoping for the Habs too. Even leafs fans told me they're going for Montreal "because they're Canadian," and "because the Bruins are playing dirty." And you know what? It's really nice. It's nice to be a fan of the team that's attracting admiration and support from all avenues. I don't want it to stop, and I don't want to have to pretend to be a silver-lining fan for one more year.