I need you to admit something to me right now. I need you to admit that you were hoping and praying for the Detroit Red Wings to pull off the upset of the Tampa Bay Lightning. You need to admit that as the horn sounded on Game 7 of that series, and Tampa Bay emerged victorious, you dropped to your knees and put your head in your hands and quietly sobbed to yourself. The dream is over; there is no round three for the Habs. The Tampa Bay Lightning may as well be the 1977 Montreal Canadiens. In 5 games this season, they were outscored 77 to 3 (actually, it was 21 to 8) , outshot 932 to 21 (actually, it was 191 to 120), and we were beaten so badly that the Habs were forced to retire from hockey and become extras in the new movie: 50 Shades of Black and Blue.
While many people were split on the Habs’ ability to defeat Ottawa, many people still believed they could win (I called Habs in 7! What are you talking about Sens in 6?? I never said that!). Alas, this Tampa Bay team is no hamburger fueled Cinderella story. Tampa Bay was the highest scoring team in the NHL, had the most regulation wins in the Eastern Conference, and boasted the second highest goal differential in the league. They were the most dominant home team in the league, although they struggled on the road at times. That may be old news, however, as they seem to have exorcised some of those road demons with a resounding victory at Detroit, in game 6, to stave off elimination. As mentioned, this powerhouse team completely annihilated the Habs during the regular season. While some Habs fans will point to our 4 game sweep of Tampa Bay in last year’s playoffs; that team was a shell of its normal self, missing its number one goaltender and having its best player not at 100% due to a devastating injury he suffered earlier in the season. What some Habs’ fans have forgotten is that during last year’s regular season, Tampa beat the Habs 3 games to 1, although it should be noted that 2 of the games went to shootout (with TB winning one and the Habs winning one).
It appears that our boys in bleu-blanc-rouge are in trouble. Facing this incredible force, one wouldn’t blame them for bowing down, and accepting their fate. The Lightning are a monster opponent – probably the one team in the East that has consistently had the Habs’ number over the last 2 seasons. This is a team littered with scoring weapons up front, from Stamkos to Tyler Johnson and his triplets line. Their blue line is led by the giant Victor Hedman, and the criminally underrated Anton Stralman. In nets, they have a tower of power in Ben Bishop, who sports a 10-1-2 career record versus the Habs and a gaudy .941 save percentage.
As I was typing this blog entry, the sinking feeling of defeat slowly weighed heavier on me, so I decided to turn on the TV in order to take a break. The Avengers was on TV and as I sat there, it dawned upon me that Tampa Bay may as well be the alien force ready to attack New York, led by Steven StamLoki (Ben Bishop is the giant flying dinosaur slug thingy). Let’s be realistic for a second – there is no way the Avengers should have been able to hold off this army; they had giant dinosaur flying slugs, and 3,849,786 soldiers and were led by a Norse deity with beyond superhuman powers! Of course, the Avengers won though, because the good guys always win, right?! Alas my dear readers, yes – all 14 of you! (what’s up Roy!) – through the murky cloud of certain defeat, we see shadows and images. Our boys will not surrender, they will not go quietly to the golf course. Therrien was quoted yesterday as saying ‘we are the underdogs”, and while this is an obvious clichéd attempt to drum up motivation from his players – he actually has a point in this series. We have our own Avengers on this team, including the soon to be MVP of the league – the greatest goaltender in the world. Our heroes give us a chance, and all we need is a chance to flip the narrative and gain victory.
So with the odds stacked against them, each of the Habvengers needs to step up, and go above and beyond their role if the Habs have any chance of defeating the
Tomas Plekanec – Hawkeye:
Hawkeye is the Avengers switchblade; while he’s known as the archer, he’s also an experienced soldier and an exceptional hand to hand fighter. His quiver is loaded with all sorts of trick arrows that give him the ability to handle any situation. Similarly, Plekanec is the most complete forward amongst Habs’ skaters. He’ll be consistently matched up against the Lightning’s top line, and will also be expected to contribute offensively. On top of those simple tasks, he’ll also be expected to help a brutal PP regain some mojo. Oh, and also operate on the first wave of the penalty kill. Pleks is the best two way forward to play for the Habs since Guy Carbonneau.
Brendan Gallagher – Black Widow:
Black Widow does the dirty work for the Avengers; whether it’s going undercover, or extracting information from a mark, she is the pest of the team. Gallagher has emerged as one of the premier pests in the NHL, able to back up most of his annoying tendencies with an incomparable work ethic and a knack for scoring timely goals. He needs to be at his peak pest abilities to get under Bishop’s skin, and throw him off his game. He’s often undercover around the blue paint amongst the giant defensemen of the NHL…that is, until he falls on the goaltender and proceeds to get mauled. Somehow, he always pops up with a smile that makes you want to hate him, and if he wasn’t on your team. I mean, honestly, if he wasn’t on the Habs I’d want to punch him in the Adam’s apple. Luckily he is, and I love him. (Incidentally, I also love Scarlett Johansson.)
Max Pacioretty – Thor:
While Pacioretty is consistently compared to Wolverine for his freakish healing ability, Wolverine isn’t part of the Avengers, so he gets Thor instead. At first glance, this seems like a forced match, but if you look deeper, you’ll see the two most powerful members of each team, yet neither is the true leader. Ultimately, success is impossible without each one realizing their potential due to their ability to dominate. For the Habs to have any chance in this series, Pacioretty needs to be the best forward on either team. I suggest he travel to Norway, locate a remote mountain cave, and find a mystical hockey stick.
P.K. Subban – Iron Man:
P.K. Subban and Tony Stark are both charismatic, talented, filthy rich, and incredibly successful. They are also prima donnas, show-offs, and incapable of carrying the leadership role. Iron Man is the flashiest member of the Avengers and if you think about all the different things he brings to the team – he is the Avengers’ most effective weapon. Similarly, while Price has received all the accolades for the Habs’ success this year, the Habs would have been lost without Subban on the blue line. He isn’t just the most exciting player on the Habs – he is also one of the most exciting in the whole league. For the Habs to have any chance, he needs to channel all that energy and skill into playing his game and trusting his teammates. Iron Man figures that “trust” issue by the end of The Avengers and P.K. needs to do the same. His play will dictate the success or failure of the Habs. (Luckily, he won’t have to fly a nuclear bomb through a wormhole in order to defeat Tampa Bay, but he will have to fire a puck through a sea of bodies and into the net a few times.)
Carey Price – Captain America:
Why isn’t Carey Price any of the more powerful Avengers? After all, Cap is just a regular dude, albeit one with super soldier serum that allows him to effectively function at the peak of human performance. Carey gets Cap, because just as Iron Man realized near the end of the movie, Cap is the actual leader of the Avengers. Carey Price is the de facto captain of this team, he is their leader, and their most important player. Without him, they’d be lost, scattered, and would have no hope of success. Like Cap, Carey Price is able to stay levelheaded in the most heated of moments, and becomes a stabilizing force for the rest of the team to build on and press forward. Needless to say, the Habs will have no chance of success if Bishop outplays Carey. Carey needs to win that battle, and be the best player overall in this series. Basically, it’s what he’s been doing all year. Keep it up Captain Carey – we need you.
Hulk – Prust/Eller/Weise/Galchenyuk/Petry/Markov:
This one is a bit of a cop-out, but hear me out. In the first Avengers movie, Bruce Banner shows up as the cavalry. Just when it seemed the Avengers would get overwhelmed, he shows up, tells Cap he’s always angry, and then punches
Ben Bishop a giant, flying, dinosaur slug in the face. The five guys above can’t do it on their own, they need a cavalry. Prust and Eller were the two most dominant possession forwards we had versus the Sens; we need that line to outplay the bottom 6 of the Lightning, because the top 6 is skewed heavily in Tampa’s favor. The Hulk is always seen as an X-factor, and so is Alex Galchenyuk in this series. While he is still a young pup at the age of 21, this is his 3rd playoff season, and it’s time to shake off the training wheels and put all that incredible skill to good use. Tampa is a free skating, speedy team, and should give Galchenyuk some room to move around. The Habs need scoring and he needs to provide it. Petry and Markov need to support P.K. Subban on the blue line. Markov struggled versus the Sens, but Petry was excellent. Markov has had a few days off to rest, and he needs to be better. The Lightning have an imposing fore-check, and the Habs’ blue liners need to move the puck quickly and up to the forwards before the pressure shows up.
In all seriousness, the Habs are in tough against a very good opponent. Before the season, I thought Tampa Bay would win the East and romp through the regular season and playoffs. However, while they were very good, there are enough chinks in their armor that the Habs have a chance to exploit them, and snatch a victory from a stronger opponent.
It seems daunting and my first instinct when Tampa Bay closed out Detroit was: “TB in 5 because Price may steal one.” I’m often much maligned for not being a “real” Habs fan because I frequently pick against them. People need to understand when I’m picking a series; I’m making a pick based on a balanced view and assessment of the team’s strengths and weaknesses. In other words: I’m using my head. It goes without saying that once that pick is made, my heart takes over and I cheer more loudly and more proudly than any Habs fan in this city. All that said, I still can’t see Montreal coming out on top here. It won’t be easy for Tampa Bay, and if they don’t close this series out by game 6, I’d pick the Habs to win game 7. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’ll get that far, so I’m going with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 6 – in a hard fought series.
Sorry folks, but the good guys don’t always win.
I hope I’m wrong.
As always, Go Habs Go!