A Leafs nation, that is.

My Maple Leafs fan friends are misinformed. They all seem to think that Montreal Canadiens fans are brutal turncoats who will turn on players at the drop of a hat. I think they cling to this notion in the hopes of convincing themselves that they, Leafs fans, are the only true devotees, following their team no matter how bad.

Today’s game was a good example of how ridiculous that notion is. With the losses piling up the pressure was on Alex Kovalev, the Canadiens most talented player, to perform today after he was left home by the GM for the Canadiens’ recent road trip. Some media outlets were reporting that Kovalev wanted out, that he’d played his last game for the Habs. Legendary player Guy Lafleur claimed the Canadiens had embarrassed Kovalev by leaving him home. Turmoil surrounded the Canadiens all week as they drifted closer to falling out of a playoff spot. The Montreal fans described by Leafs devotees would focus their anger on Kovalev, running hit out of town on a rail. Surely today’s game against the Senators would be ugly for him.

Except it wasn’t.

When Kovalev’s face appeared on the scoreboard during the pre-game lineup announcements, the Montreal crowd cheered. They cheered louder than they did for any other player. When the game started and Montreal went to work on an early power play, Kovalev took a pass in the high slot, pulled two players to him and then fed a beautiful pass to Tomas Plekanec who scored. The crowd gave Kovalev a standing ovation. A few minutes later Kovalev stole the puck just inside the Ottawa blueline, swept in and scored. Another standing o. The crowd roared when, on the penalty kill, Kovalev dove to knock a puck out of the Canadiens’ zone. Later in the game, when he drew an assist on another goal, his name drew the loudest cheer during the scoring announcement. It was his night.

Kovalev had an all-star quality game, but the fans were cheering him even before the puck dropped. Those don’t sound like the usual description of Habs fans I hear living here in Toronto.

“A nation is a society united by delusions about its ancestry and by a common hatred of its neighbors.” –Dean Inge

Speaking of Toronto, Mats Sundin — the Leafs’ all-time leader in goals and points scored, long-time captain and almost certainly one of the best players in their history — made his first return visit to Toronto tonight after decamping for Vancouver. While most cheered him when he took the ice, a few Toronto fans actually booed him. That’s shameful. Apparently the Toronto fans’ delusion extends beyond the skill level of their team, and keeps them from seeing the kind of fans they really are.

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