Hubris, Despair and (Fool’s) Hope.

As the seconds ticked off during the end of game seven in the Habs/Bruins series I found myself standing alone, off to the side, in a bar full of rowdy, deliriously happy Habs’ fans as they counted down the seconds…Six!..Five!..Four!…

I immediately started thinking of the next round: “The Rangers? We can beat the Rangers! Doesn’t Lundqvist struggle in Montreal? Wasn’t their power play 0 for 30 in these playoffs? Didn’t they get shutout in consecutive games versus the Penguins? We have home ice advantage! We can make the Stanley Cup final!”

As I finished high-fiving 39 different people and chest bumping one unfortunate soul who was smaller than David Desharnais and not prepared for my beer fueled, high energy leap. I was guilty of something about 99.7% of Habs fans were guilty of following our hard earned victory over our chief rivals from Boston. I was guilty of hubris and would pay dearly for it.

After catching some grief for choosing the Bruins over the Habs, I stood by my assertion that Bruins were a better team and the Habs simply outplayed them when it mattered most. Carey Price was better than Tukka Rask, and as I mentioned in my previous entry, whoever had the better goaltender would most likely emerge victorious. So in that respect I was right. Now given the effort I put into analyzing the previous series, one would assume I’d take my time to study this match up. However I was suffering from hubris and the “beating Boston” hangover and did no research on the Rangers. Armed with no substantial knowledge on the Habs’ opponent, I made the bold proclamation that the Habs would win in six games. I felt confident that although the Rangers had one of the best goaltenders in the world in Henrik Lundqvist, the Habs had one of their own in Carey Price. While the Rangers had acquired Martin St. Louis, who happens to be one of the the most clutch players over the last decade. The Habs had P.K Subban who was developing a reputation for showing up in big games.

About an hour before Game 1 on Saturday afternoon, I was looking up stats on the NHL website (some people read, others write or draw…I look up stats on my down time – I blame fantasy sports). I was shocked to see that the Rangers were the top even strength team through the first two rounds of the playoffs, I felt better when I noticed the Habs were second. However, just to further assuage myself I looked up the regular season stats. Once again, to my shock (and creeping feeling of horror), the Rangers were the better team at even strength during the regular season as well. It got me thinking – what else was I wrong about? Surely a team that went 0 for 30 on the power play in the playoffs wouldn’t have a better regular season power play than the Habs?…Guess what? The Rangers not only had a better power play during the regular season, their penalty kill was slightly better as well (and 3rd best in the league). Woah, hold on a second. – what the puck is going on here? As I nervously looked over more stats. my dread grew: The Rangers had a better goals against? The Rangers had more goals for? Ok surely the advanced metrics would favor the Habs, after all they finished ahead of the Rangers in the standings! Alas, the Rangers were top ten in both Fenwick For percentage and Corsi For percentage, well ahead of the Habs in either category…

(So I assume most of you have seen Usual Suspects…if not, then you’re missing out and you should stop reading and go rent it immediately. For the rest of you, remember the scene at the end;  when Chaz Palminteri is figuring out that Kevin Spacey’s story is all made up, and he drops his coffee mug, and the f’n fax machine is going, and mother f’n Spacey is walking away and all of sudden his foot straightens out and he isn’t limping anymore and you realize he’s f’n Keyser Soze! The shock makes you go crazy and throw your coffee table at the TV. Then you start walking around, babbling to yourself, and tripping over nothing and rolling around the floor like you’re on fire…Well that’s how I felt when I looked up these statistics.)

…Suddenly “Habs in six” felt…shaky. I should have known better when I mentioned to a friend that although the Habs had been to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010, the win against the Bruins in game seven was their biggest victory since the Stanley Cup win of ’93. When a victory is that intense, there is bound to be a hangover. Unfortunately before the Habs could pop their Advil, and chug their Gatorade they were down 2-0 and on their way to receiving a 7-2 beat down in game one. Despite that and my suddenly shakier feeling, I felt as though the result was so extreme that there would be a correction and the Habs would come out hard in game two and earn a win. My hubris had crumbled away but I remained confident, despite discovering that the statistical analysis favored the Rangers, I felt that this Habs team and our goaltender had bounced back after a tough beat all season long. Then the news hit: Carey Price was out for the series. While all the fair weather fans quickly jumped off the bandwagon, and others lamented the Habs chances without their all world goaltender. I immediately thought of Carey. He’s had to put up with more BS than all the goaltenders in the league combined playing in this city, and for the most part it had not affected him or his game. This year he put it all together over a full season, winning the gold medal, silencing his critics who said he hadn’t won in the playoffs, and outplaying the probable Vezina winner. For his season to potentially end in injury is both sad and disappointing, not just for him and his fans, but for fans of hockey who wanted to witness a showdown between two of the best goaltenders in the world…

(Before anyone asks, I don’t think Krieder ran Price on purpose. He was clearly tripped and while he didn’t do much to stop himself or avoid Carey, it’s a hockey play. Yes, I’ve seen the videos. Yes, he plays a reckless style and has a history of crashing into goaltenders, but so do many other players in the league including Brendan Gallagher and Habs fans love for him for it. So fans need to let it go, move on, and stop the ridiculous “let’s run Henrik” talk.  It solves nothing, cheapens the game, and is discouraging overall).

…Without Carey, my confidence gave way to something worse than hubris…Despair. How could we win without our best player? The Habs came apart at the beginning of the third period in game one, and although down 4-1, they may have had a shot to make it close had they not taken some undisciplined penalties. While fans debated who should play in nets for game two, I felt indifferent towards either goaltender. When the dust settled on game two, the Habs were down 2-0 in the series. Although I felt as though the Habs carried the play for most of the game, the Rangers avoided our forecheck, had the puck luck and took advantage on the PP – my despair had reached peak levels. “Habs in six” was quickly becoming a “Rangers sweep” prediction. I did notice that game two saw Dustin Tokarski acquit himself well enough, and numerous Habs step up their game and provide a tremendous effort. Habs also dominated possession numbers, but here’s the thing about stats and advanced metrics – they’re rendered irrelevant when you face a hot goaltender. Henrik Lundqvist is a great goaltender, and he’s on a hot streak…

(You know that level in Angry Birds that you just can’t beat: that annoying green pig is hiding under 12 planks of wood, 29 sheets of glass, and he’s wearing a cowboy hat over a helmet made of adamantium. All you have left to get to him is a that little blue bird that breaks into 3 useless tiny birds. No matter how many times you try you just can’t get that stupid green pig. That how i felt during game two while watching the Habs try and score on Lundqvist. Especially in the third period when the Habs had 19 shots and several high quality chances but could not put one by the King.)

…Let’s face it; it seems hopeless at this point. The stats favor the Rangers; their future hall of fame goaltender is playing some of the best hockey of his career; and their power play has woken up. Consider also that the Habs have lost their best player to injury; that they lost both their home games; and that they are playing their 3rd string goaltender. One could safely assume that I would sink further into an abyss of despair and petition the league to call off the rest of the series. But I had an epiphany while writing about the Habs’ impending doom. I realized the pressure was off; no one expects the Habs to win anymore – just like that, the Habs became the underdog. Somehow, some way the Habs play better from this position. I took an informal poll of my friends, some coworkers, and one very skeptical stranger. The result was surprising: over 51% (17/33) of them believe the Habs will still win this series. In spite of everything being stacked against the Habs, more than half of the people I asked still believe in this team. I suspect most of them don’t believe with 100% certainty that the Habs will win but that a chance to win still exists, and where there is chance – there is hope. The fans won’t abandon their team and no matter what happens, that is pretty powerful stuff. I truly think that this attitude also permeates the Habs locker room. Even without Carey Price in net, the Habs are heading back to New York fully believing they can win game 3, and they’ll believe they can win game 4 and so on – one game at a time. This team will not give up and it will not surrender. While all the evil Hab haters are twisting their beards and and wringing their hands with devilish glee, the loyal followers and the unbiased observers know this team can rise to the challenge and has responded well to adversity in the past.

So I say…why give in to despair? I’m the fool who picked the Habs to lose to the Bruins, the fool who fell to hubris and despair, and I say why not hope? A fool’s hope is better than no hope at all.

It is so easy to give up and call it quits, but it wasn’t easy for Carey to win 34 games this year, it wasn’t easy for Pacioretty to score 39 goals, it wasn’t easy for 35 year old, Andrei Markov to block 180 shots and it certainly wasn’t easy beating the big bad Bruins. So why take the easy way out now? The Rangers are better, they had an equally difficult path and have overcome numerous obstacles. They are playing an all world goalie versus an AHL goalie, enjoy a significant home ice advantage, and have all the momentum…

…So what?

Habs in 7.

Go Habs Go.

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