Break out your faded flannel and dig out your Nirvana CDs. For the first time since 1993, the Montreal Canadiens are in the Stanley Cup Finals courtesy of an overtime 3-2 victory last night over the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Canadiens, who in this truncated 2021 season started it as anything but odds-on favorites to so much as make the playoffs, have had an interesting year to say the least. After a hot start, Montreal cooled off so much by Montreal standards — the team lost three whole games in a row — it fired its head coach, firmly placing the interim tag on replacement Dominique Ducharme. A rather excessive reaction, but this is Montreal where it is win every game and every shift in every game or bust. There’s been a lot of bust in the past twenty-eight years. But I digress.
Anyway, Ducharme adequately guided the Canadiens to a fourth-place finish in the one-time-only Scotia North division, thus setting up a first-round playoff match with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadiens/Maple Leafs rivalry is one of the genuine legendary rivalries. For a non-hockey parallel, think the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Or the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. Or CNN and the truth. You get the idea.
The Maple Leafs were heavily favored to win the matchup. It appeared they would do just that and with ease, taking a three games to one lead in the best-of-seven series. Then a funny thing happened … well, funny to everyone, except Toronto fans. Montreal forgot you are not supposed to come back from a three games to one deficit and won the series. Next, the Canadiens swept a Winnipeg Jets team that looked like a moose caught in the headlights. Or maybe it was the Manitoba Moose (the Moose are the Jets minor league team — SWIDT?) that the Canadiens played. In either case, on to Vegas.
Vegas started and finished the year as it has done every season since its inaugural campaign: heavy favorites to play in the Stanley Cup Finals if not win them outright. The Golden Knights certainly looked the part in Game One against the Canadiens, cruising to a 4-1 victory. Montreal then changed tactics, going to a more heavy pressure approach against the Vegas offense with emphasis on regaining puck control and swift counterattacks. It worked; the bulk of Golden Knights goals scored were from its defensemen, and it wasn’t enough as the Canadiens took four of the next five games en route to a Finals matchup against the winner of tonight’s Tampa Bay Lightning-New York Islanders Game Seven brawl to end it all.
Assuming the fans at Nassau Coliseum can remember that beer is supposed to be for drinking and not throwing, a Canadiens-Islanders Finals would be fascinating, the two underdogs going at it. Should Tampa Bay win tonight, they would immediately be the heavy favorite over Montreal, and rightly so based on regular-season record plus the Lightning being loaded with talent that knows how to play under pressure. Not to mention that whole defending Stanley Cup champion thing. However, Vegas was also heavily favored, and we saw how that played out. In either case stay tuned, all who have not completely turned their back on professional sports. There’s good hockey ahead.