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Montreal Canadiens' Run To The Final: Making Sense Of It All

Like most rational human beings in the world, I like to have what I see happening reconcile with what I know or understand. In lay terms, I need things to make sense to me.

Image credit: CTV News Montreal

Again, like most of Sens Nation watching this improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final by the Montreal Canadiens, I am having a difficult time achieving that goal.

The following questions keep coming back to me unanswered:

• How could a team that lost the season series 6-3-1 to the Senators be doing this?

• Where is the 7 player profile on which championship teams are supposed to be built?

• How did Marc Bergevin go from taking an UBER to the unemployment line to wearing the gaudiest red suit jumping for joy at the end of each round?

• Did the Leafs, Jets and Knights blow it, or are the Habs really this good?

Before I answer those questions, I have a confession to make. At the risk of being ex-communicated from Sens Nation, I am glad the Habs have done this and I hope they win the next round as well. I said I would go all in on whoever won the North Division and OUI THE NORTH is the new battle cry! Did I think it would be them? I did not…neither did you! I don’t care how long you have been a Habs fan or how much merchandise you own, you didn’t think this was in the cards either.

I know that might be considered treason to those who resent Habs and Leafs fans for occupying 2/3 of the seats at Sens home games during non-pandemic times. However, I think I resent full arenas in the United States homes games just a little more while the Ontario and Quebec provincial governments have granted a pittance of fans with none in the lower bowls.

There…I said it. I know the Habs have won the last 2 Canadian Cups and 24 overall. However, what difference does that make? Did you really want Vegas to win in their 4th year in the league? The Islanders have won 4 Stanley Cups in their history. Good for JG Pageau but you really want them to have another drink from the chalice? Tampa Bay came into the league with the Ottawa Senators in 1993. They have two cups. You want our expansion brothers to have another parade?

Let’s not be petty folks. It’s been 25 consecutive Stanley Cups awarded to a USA based team since 1993. You want to go for 26 out of spite?

Now let’s get down to business and make sense of this nonsense.

How could a team that lost the season series 6-3-1 to the Ottawa Senators be doing this?

If the Montreal Canadiens caught a break this year, it was in the length of the schedule. With only 56 games and teams like Ottawa having been idle since March of the previous year, the Habs benefited from a quick start that gave them a cushion while the Sens spun their wheels for the first quarter of the season. Add to that, the covid-19 infection of the Vancouver Canucks and it created something of a perfect storm.

In fairness, the Sens were largely playing for pride as the year wound down. However, it is quite conceivable that the Sens, in an 82 game schedule, might have bridged the gap fully and overtaken the Habs.

These were also regular season games which is all that most of the Ottawa Senators have ever tasted in the NHL. The Habs have much more in the way of experience which, in crunch times, can be worth its weight in gold. Players like Weber, Edmundson, Staal, Perry, Toffoli and Price have all enjoyed Stanley Cup, World Junior or Olympic glory and know more about winning when it counts.

While those players are somewhat long in the tooth, the 56 game schedule also allowed them to hit the playoffs with a lot more in the tank to make a playoff run.

This alone doesn’t convince me.

Where is the 7 player profile on which championship teams are supposed to be built?

I wrote an article recently to try and validate the 7 player profile and what it means to winning a Stanley Cup. It showed that the 7 player profile is very valid given the past winners. To refresh your memory, here are the criteria and who I see as the Habs components

1. all-star center – Nick Suzuki (all-star center of the future maybe)

2. #2 all-star center – Jesperi Kotkaniemi (again maybe future but not this year)

3. Top power forward – Josh Anderson/Joel Armia

4. Specialist/Utility Player/Agitator/Shutdown center – Brenda Gallagher (legit glue guy)

5. All-star offensive d-man – Jeff Petry (Best season of his career)

6. Top shutdown d-man – They have 3 Chiarot, Edmundson and Weber

7. All-star goalie – Carey Price (I hope we can agree on that)

Nick Suzuki was 3rd on the team in scoring and one can project him to be an offensive star center and a nice pick up by Bergevin from the Knights who really don’t have a reputable number 1 center. Kotkaniemi played subpar offensively most of the season and started the playoffs in the press box. They seem to fall short in those two categories yet they seem to make up for it in other areas. As well, had those two players played in the regular the way they have in the playoffs, this profile might look different.

Josh Anderson is inconsistent in his play but can and has been very effective at times. When he hasn’t been on, Joel Armia has been. Between the two, the Habs have had a power forward causing problems. Brendan Gallagher had one point in the Vegas series but still found a way to be effective. He has only 5 points in 17 games yet still finds a way to irritate and not take penalties.

The Habs defense seems to fit the profile and then some. They may not be the most offensively slick group. However, they can shut teams down and play a punishing style that wouldn’t fly in the regular season from an officiating standpoint. It does, however, seem taylor made for playoff success.

As far as 7 player profiles go, that is a mediocre version though I may have underestimated it somewhat. Vegas’ weakness down the middle was exposed as well and players like Mark Stone were unable to get going offensively without a solid center ice position to create chances.

Again, I remain unconvinced.

How did Marc Bergevin go from taking an UBER to the unemployment line to wearing the gaudiest red suit jumping for joy at the end of each round?

When the Habs went down 3-1 in round 1 losing 4-0 on home ice to the Leafs, you were all firing Marc Bergevin. If I have to be honest, so do you. I would imagine even Marc Bergevin thought he was done. Domenic Ducharme is still an interim head coach and he probably wasn’t feeling very comfortable in his own skin either.

The phrase OUI THE NORTH didn’t exist and everything that was done to bring in Toffoli, Edmundson, Anderson, Allen and Perry in the off season and Staal at the deadline for 3rd and 5th round picks was being flogged by fans and the media.

This was with good reason. The Habs limped down the stretch for the most part and thanks to the Sens taking important points from the Flames and Canucks, the Habs were able to get into the playoffs. In fairness, Carey Price was injured for a substantial part of that downturn. However, his regular season prior to injury was nothing to rave about with his save % a full 3 points higher in the post season.

Now that OUI THE NORTH is the flavour of the day, Marc Bergevin could run for office right now and possibly win. Deals that were previously being flogged are now being hailed by the same people.

Did Bergevin know something we didn’t? Possibly. He may have made a calculation internally that the shorter season would allow for more experienced players to be fresher come playoff time. However, if Wonder Woman would be so kind as to lone us the Lasso of Hestia, I am pretty sure I could compel Bergevin to admit that everything has fallen into place for him and that he didn’t believe it was going to happen based on his regular season. He may have hoped. He did not know.

Marc Bergevin is likely to get a lengthy extension based on this run and a year from now when there is an 82 game schedule and his older experienced team starts to struggle, the same people ordaining him as a genius will be calling for his head.

That said, as of right now, Marc Bergevin is the toast of the town and if you make the decisions and they pan out, regardless of it making sense, you get the credit.

Did the Leafs, Jets and Knights blow it, or are the Habs really this good?

Perhaps it was the excitement brought by the fans in the USA stadiums versus the stark contrast of the empty Canadian rinks, the teams in the USA seemed to play with a lot more pace than any of the Canadian teams in the post season. I was legitimately concerned that North Division winner was in for a rude awakening. This concerned me not just because I wanted the North Division winner to win the Cup. It also concerned me in terms of what that might say about the Sens roster that we all became so enamored with down the stretch. Were they not as promising as we thought?

I was wrong.

In fact, if it is any consolation to Leafs Nation, you are the only team that has managed to have the Habs on the ropes. The Jets went gently into that good night and the Knights couldn’t handle the Big 4 defensemen.

The Leafs, Jets and Knights didn’t blow it. They didn’t have rosters that could play the type of hockey that the officiating is prepared to allow and none of them had Carey Price.

Are the Habs this good? NO they aren’t. I think they know it too. I think they are as surprised as anyone that it has come to this.

That said, it doesn’t matter. It only matters if you win. Belief is power.

The USA wasn’t the best hockey team at the 1980 Olympics. They weren’t even top 3. However, they were for 2 weeks. They rode the wave and a hot goalie and made the impossible possible.

Cole Caufield joining the team after his collegiate season and now having this kind of impact is eerily similar to when Ken Morrow joined the Islanders after the 1980 Olympics.

The Montreal Canadiens were not the best team in the NHL Playoffs in 1993. They had the best goalie and a very opportunistic group that won 10 games out of 16 in overtime including 3 in the final series.

Andrew Hammond and the Ottawa Senators in 2015 were not as good as the 20-1-2 record they compiled to get into the playoffs on his run. They did it. That was their Cup run and they were bounced in five games by the Habs in round 1.

My conclusion from all of this is that I am looking for sense in a world that has none. The Habs were built for a short run like this where anything can happen. Over an 82 games schedule, they might not have made the playoffs. Maybe the President’s Trophy needs to garner more respect. Being the best over a longer period should be regarded perhaps not as equally impressive as a Stanley Cup but in the ballpark. As officiating seems to be the big wildcard in the playoffs, it’s hard to compare regular season to post season if it isn’t officiated in the same manner.

For now, all I know is that I want the Stanley Cup north of the 49th and if it takes the Habs winning it to make that happen, then OUI THE NORTH!!!

Much as it pains me to say this but OLE!! OLE OLE OLE!! OLE!! OLE!!

By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey


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