Monday, April 26, 2010

Aftermath: It's a Kind of Magic

Last night was a dream, dimly overshadowed by the spectre of a nightmare. Just imagine if Paul Holmgren had accepted Bob Gainey's offer for Jaro Halak earlier in the year. Or don't, if you find the idea as horrifying as I do. But as I watched what should have been certain goals disappear into Halak's glove, and shot after shot bounce harmlessly away onto the sticks of Habs defenders, the thought crossed my mind more than once. What if?

Fortunately for us, Holmgren thought whatever Gainey demanded was too rich for his blood and Jaro remains a Hab. And what a Hab! Do you remember when he first came to Montreal? On his mask was a painting of Patrick Roy in '93, hoisting the Cup. He said at the time that, as a boy, he watched Roy and tried to emulate his winning, competitive attitude. Mission accomplished, with a vengeance.

I don't go back as far as some of you die-hards, but I remember the infamous Game Three overtime Roy played against the Rangers in '86. I watched with clenched hands and knotted stomach, and growing disbelief. Thirteen Rangers shots peppered Roy and he stopped them all, before the Habs finally mustered a shot of their own for the game-winner. That game showed us what Roy could be for the Habs. It was the first indication of what the skinny kid was made of, and it's become part of the Canadiens' rich team lore. Last night Halak put in the best goaltending performance by a Montreal Canadiens goalie we've seen in the 24 years since.

His typically self-deprecating comments post-game: "Just another day at the office," "You have to be lucky," didn't channel Roy's innate cockiness, but the on-ice results were the same. The Caps looked stymied, frustrated and amazed all at once, just like the Rangers did all those years ago.

It's premature to talk Cup or legend at this point. The game, glorious as it was, was just one game. Legends are made when those types of spectacular individual performances are part of something bigger. Halak knows that, and, I think, so do his teammates.

Hal Gill and Josh Gorges once again helped Halak lock down the win with their dedicated, sacrificial kind of D. Mike Cammalleri buried his chances as he's been doing all series, making up for his horrid post-injury slump at the end of the regular season. Gomez, Plekanec and Gionta played very well at both ends of the ice, providing some dangerous chances and reliable D. Lapierre woke up with a vengeance. Markov was The General on the back end, and rookie PK Subban, whose first NHL playoff game was almost completely overshadowed by Halak's performance, didn't look out of place at all.

Last night was a whole-team win, as any underdog will tell you. Even in a great team win, though, there can be individual brilliance, and so the night belonged to Halak. Watching him last night made me shudder to imagine him in another team's sweater. Post-game, I wondered what would have happened if, instead of Petr Svoboda, the Habs had drafted a goalie fifth overall in 1984; the year they picked Roy in the third round? What if the organization had had a star in which it had invested a lot of time and hope, whom it wanted to help push to succeed ahead of Roy? What if Serge Savard had wanted, say, Steve Penney, to have every chance, to the detriment of Roy? What if Roy had become angry with the situation and asked to be traded? The situation doesn't bear thinking about.

I like Carey Price, and I'm a big proponent of the organization re-signing both goalies. Whatever happens, though, Halak proved something last night. He's a winner, and he must be retained. The idea of him stopping 53 shots in an elimination game for some rival team is enough to give you bad dreams. Last night, the dreams were all good, with only one outstanding question: Can he do it again?

If he can, let's hope it's Wednesday night. I'm not done dreaming yet, and I hope the team isn't either. If you're going to dream, you might as well dream big.


moeman said...

Bonne FĂȘte J.T.!!!

J.T. said...

Thanks, Moe! And all the other people kind enough to send greetings on what turned out to be a pretty damn good day for me!

Anonymous said...

Perspective folks! It was nerve wracking to watch. The had something like 90 shots fired toward the net. Many missed and a ton were blocked. What is worrisome is the dives and the penalties the Habs took and how they had to rely on the PK. I would love to see them play a more rounded game where they can win a few more battles and get some time in Washingtons end. But it is the playoff - timely goals and great goaltending are what is required for any team destined to win it all.

Anonymous said...

I'm scared.

Anonymous said...

JT, I'm curious as to what you think about Elliotte Friedmans prediction in his monday blog.

"Prediction: No matter what happens with the Canadiens tonight - or afterward, should they beat Washington - Jaroslav Halak will not re-sign there unless Montreal makes an obscene offer."

Patrick said...

@Anonymous: "Don't worry; be happy"...


Unknown said...

Happy birthday J.T.!!

DB said...

Last night Washington entered the Jaro-zone - the place where sure goals mysteriously disappear.

Hope the rest of your birthday was as good as Jaro's performance.

NorCalVol said...

It almost felt like a privilege to witness Halak in goal last night.
I agree with the anonymous post in the sense that the Habs found themselves defending too much. The coach said as much in the spot interview from the bench - they have to stop spending so much time in their own end.
The hockey gods smiled on the Habs last night. But it was the squad's physical play that really had me thrusting my fist up in the air. That combined with a willingness to attack with swarms of shots had the Caps soiling their shorts. On the other end, it seemed as if the Caps were shaking their heads because of Halak's brilliance. Their frustration was so gratifying to watch - their cockiness thrust up their butts.
It was beautiful.
The extra day of rest for the keeper surely helped. Now, one less day, and on the road on top of that, brings worry. But why worry? It's game seven, and ALL the pressure is squarely on the Caps in front of their fans.
I smell an upset of historic proportions.
And I also see the Rocket smiling, coming out of thin air to put his arm around our shoulder and shaking our hand as he did in "The Sweater" for any of us who dare to believe that this team can do it Wednesday.
I know they can.
I believe they will.

J.T. said...

@anon: I'm not sure where Freidman's getting that. Jaro is a restricted free agent, although he's got arbitration rights. It's either sign in Montreal outright, take the Habs to arbitration and sign in Montreal afterwards, or sign an offer sheet, which the Habs have a right to match...after which he'll likely sign in Montreal. In any situation, if the Habs want to keep Halak, they can.

If, however, they try to lowball him and he goes to arbitration, it may mean that we have only a year or two of his services left. Or, if they decide not to match an offer sheet in favour of a large return in draft picks, he could be gone. Otherwise, he'll stay in Montreal. I do believe Gauthier will finally have to make him a respectable offer comparable with other goalies of his age and with similar stats. There aren't a whole lot of those out there, but unless he leads them to a Cup this year, I'd expect something in the 3-3.5 million range to be respectable. Goalies seem to be regarded as special cases, but if you look at what Andrei Kostitsyn is making for his inconsistent play, doesn't Jaro deserve something at least comparable for his role on the team?

If Gauthier can move a contract like Hamrlik's somehow this summer, He'll have to use that money to bump Pleks to something in the five-million range, pay Subban and use what's left to sign Halak. I think Price can be retained as well, for something like 1.5-2 million, since he's got fewer rights than Jaro. It'll be interesting to see how the money situation plays out for next year, but I think with some smart management, it's possible to keep Pleks and both goalies at fair market prices.

Anonymous said...

That first shot against the Rangers in '86 wasn't just any shot, it was Claude Lemieux on a breakaway (aided by a non-call at the Habs blueline).

That was when you just KNEW 1986 was going to be special.

As for Elliotte and his rumors, is it too much to ask of CBC and TSN to refrain themselves from openly cheering for the other team when they are broadcasting Habs' games?

One more win and it's on to Pittsbrugh. Believe.

Andrew Berkshire said...

With all due respect to Halak, and this takes nothing away from him, that wasn't the best goaltending performance by a Hab since 1986. It was the best since 1994 when Patrick Roy stopped 59 of 60 shots after having his appendix removed.

J.T. said...

@Berkshire: I'll give you Roy's definitely top-ten for that one. He was awesome...but I think Jaro was a tiny bit awesomer. :)