Then things went in the shitter. Carey Price got hurt, and ended up sitting out the entire season. He wasn’t the only long-term injury: the Canadiens are third in man-games lost this year, and as this chart from mangamelost.com shows, more injuries tends to equal fewer wins.
They were effectively out of the playoff race months ago. They didn’t even finish the season that badly — they didn’t tank so much that they’ll get a top-5 draft pick.
It could be worse though. I could be a Leafs fan.
Cover photo by marnie webb, used under Creative Commons license
I have an emotional hangover. I sportsed too hard last night.
Plenty of ink has already been spilled about the Blue Jays game 5 win over Texas to advance to the American League Championship series. (Cathal Kelly’s story in the Globe was the best, I thought.) All I can say is that it was definitely one of the highlights of my sports-fan life…to go from so low to so high, to sprout a profuse belief in the sporting gods, all in the space of a single epic inning of baseball, was mildly profound. I can’t imagine actually being at the Rogers Centre Skydome for the game, as some of my friends were.
We’d had tickets for the Toronto FC game last night, but given how long the Jays game ran over we really didn’t think we’d make it over to BMO Field. But after Jose’s bat flip we figured we’d make a break for it: we assumed the Jays would win, and if they relinquished the lead, I didn’t want to watch it. So in the middle of the 8th we jumped in a cab and beat it west before the mayhem began. As it turned out, the mayhem began at the corner of Queens Quay and Bathurst, when every car around us at the traffic light began honking wildly.
Despite it being freezing cold, we’re glad we made it to the TFC game. They clinched the first playoff berth in team history last night, on a highlight-reel goal from the incomparable Giovinco, who’d gotten off a plane from Italy just a few hours before. For at least this one night the sports gods were on Toronto’s side.
All in all, a pretty good evening. Oh, and as I type this, the Canadiens are about to win their fifth straight game to start the NHL season, the first (!) time in their storied history that’s happened.
This day twenty years ago was one of the happiest of my life. I watched my Montreal Canadiens defeat the Los Angeles Kings 4-1 to win the Stanley Cup in five games. Sure I’d been alive for five Canadiens cup wins up to that point, but don’t remember ’76 through ’79, and was only vaguely aware of the 1986 cup win. I didn’t become a hardcore fan until the early 90s, and by 1993 I was obsessed.
It’s all stuck with me so clearly. I can still remember the results of each game in order. I can still name the forward line combinations and defense pairings to a man. I can picture all the crucial points in the playoffs. Vincent Damphousse winning game 3 of the first round against Quebec, the only time the Habs were really threatened. All those overtimes against Buffalo and the Islanders. Guy Carbonneau asking to shadow Gretzky after 99 ran roughshod over Kirk Muller in game 1 of the final. Eric Desjardins’ improbable hat trick in game 2 after coach Jacques Demers rolled the dice with an illegal stick call. Patrick Roy winking at Tomas Sandstrom. John LeClair owning overtime in LA. Demers dressing Donald Dufresne for the final game so he could get his name on the cup. Carbonneau, the captain, letting Denis Savard lift the cup first.
Until that point the Canadiens had never gone more than seven years without a cup win. While it’s nice to celebrate the 20th anniversary of an unexpected win, it’s sobering to think of how much the team, and the league, have changed. Not just for the Habs: no Canadian team has lifted the cup since that night in Montreal, two decades past.
Photo by woody1778a, used under Creative Commons license
I spent most of last week at a conference just outside of Phoenix. This was my view each morning:
Not bad, right? But with this trip coming right on the heels of the previous week’s trip to Boston, I was ready to come back to Toronto and have a couple of quiet weekends. Fortunately while I was away the long Toronto winter finally breathed its last. I arrived home Thursday to find runners and cyclists swarming the waterfront, leaves finally breaking out on trees, and the Canadiens playing their first playoff game.
As sure as those are signs of spring, so too is Hot Docs. My travel schedule kept us from seeing our usual five screenings this year, but we did manage to squeak in a few. First, after a bite and a beer at The Oxley followed by a few spectacular glasses of wine (my ’99 Peter Lehmann Shiraz really stood out) at Opus we took in a late screening of Blackfish. I get emotional every time I think about Tilikum or Dawn Brancheau or pretty much any other part of that film so I’m not going to describe it much more here. I’m just going to say this: SeaWorld can go fuck itself. So can MarineLand. So can anyone who goes there.
After our customary pre-Hot Docs stop on the patio at the Victory Café…
After that we needed another drink. We made our way (slowly, happily) down to Bellwoods Brewery, which we’d shamefully not yet tried despite it being named the 3rd-best new brewery in the world last year. We had several tasty pints and ate bread and salumi and rosemary fries, and sat in the perfect inside-but-almost-outside weather.
Signs of spring: birds singing. Snow melting. Taxes. Maple syrup. Flowers blooming. Bruins/Habs.
Tomorrow night Montreal will face Boston in the playoffs for the fifth time in ten years. True, that’s not quite as frequent as in the years before the 1993 shift to conference vs. divisional playoffs, when they met each other in the playoffs nine straight years. But this year has a little extra zing, thanks to Zdeno Chara’s attempted decapitation of Max Pacioretty last month.
I don’t see Montreal trying to go after the Bruins physically. First, they can’t. Second, if physical retaliation were their plan they would have tried it during their final meeting of the season, in which Boston demolished them 7-0. No, the Canadiens’ only intended revenge would be to knock off the third-seeded Bruins. But I don’t see how they can do it. Boston is too big, too strong, too fast. Montreal has been without their two best defensemen, Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges, for the better part of the year. Montreal’s only star player is Carey Price, but Boston goalie Tim Thomas is also one of the best in the league on many nights.
If Price steals a few wins, Thomas gets rattled, Boston’s scorers dry up and Montreal gets a second straight heroic playoff from guys like Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and P.K. Subban, then maybe they’ll pull off the upset.
I’m fortunate to cheer for a hockey team which has won six Stanley Cups during my lifetime. That’s right, Leafs fans under the age of 43: six. Suck it. Anyway, I’m too young to remember much about the first four of those Canadiens cup wins (in consecutive years from 76 to 79) except that it was during those years that I decided Montreal was my favourite team, much to my father’s chagrin. I only vaguely recall the arrival of St. Patrick (Roy) to win the cup in 1986, as I didn’t really start paying attention to hockey until I was fourteen. It was 1989, and Montreal had made the cup finals again in Pat Burns‘ first year behind the bench.
The Canadiens lost to Calgary that year, but it set a precedent for Burns: he had a habit of making a big impact in his first year with each team he coached. He won the Jack Adams trophy that year as best coach in the NHL. Making the traitorous move to Toronto in 1992, he led an underdog team of Maple Leafs to game 7 of the conference finals, before Wayne Gretzky eventually shot Doug Gilmour in the neck, peed on his corpse and threw the puck into the Toronto net with his bare hands. Or at least that’s how Leafs fans describe it. Nonetheless, Burns won the Jack Adams again for his role in turning Toronto into a contender. He would eventually be fired, but won a third Jack Adams trophy in his first year coaching the Boston Bruins. In 2003 he led the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup, his first and only cup win. A few years later he would step down because of the cancer that would eventually spell the end of him. Pat Burns died last Friday.
It was a fitting coincidence, then, that Montreal and Toronto were to face each other the following evening. Montreal — as is their custom — held a touching and tasteful ceremony of remembrance before the game. It is well the game was not set for Toronto; I shudder to think how that tribute might have gone. The Canadiens then went out and stomped all over the Leafs, winning 2-0 for Carey Price’s third shutout in six games. Price looked, as he has all season, calm and focused and confident. After the game Price revealed to reporters that his inspired play of late may have had something to do with the very man the fans celebrated last night.
“He was a special person and he did a lot of great things in this league for both teams,” Price said of the 58-year-old who had success as coach in Montreal, Toronto, Boston and New Jersey before his illness drove him to step down in 2004.
“He left me a message before the season started and I was really touched. He gave it to (assistant coach) Kirk Muller and he passed it on to me.”
Asked what Burns said, Price just said: “That will always be here with me.”
The Philadelphia Flyers have just defeated my Montreal Canadiens 4-2, thus eliminating them from the playoffs and moving on to play Chicago for the Stanley Cup. It was an improbable run by the Habs, barely squeaking into the playoffs and yet knocking off the #1 regular season team (Washington) in the first round, and last year’s Cup champion (Pittsburgh) in the second. Philly manhandled them, though, shutting them out three times.
It might have been that Montreal was just exhausted after slogging their way through two consecutive 7-game series. Jaroslav Halak stopped over 500 shots in the playoffs. Their best defenseman, and maybe best player overall — Andrei Markov — was hurt in the first game of round 2, and his absence showed in the anemic power play. Ultimately, though, the Flyers did what Washington and Pittsburgh didn’t: they adjusted. The Capitals and Penguins seemed convinced that if they just kept playing the same way they had all year, their talent would come through and win the day. That played right into the Habs’ strategy, but the Flyers had none of it. They crashed the net, unlike the Caps and Pens who just talked about doing it, and Montreal coach Jacques Martin seemed unwilling to use Ryan O’Byrne on D, the one player big and strong enough to clear the crease. The Philly defense cut off the entry pass and punished the Canadiens’ small, skilled players along the wall. Mike Leighton may have recorded the shutouts, but apart from game 2 he was little better than average. The Flyers just choked the life out of the Montreal forwards.
So now the Flyers will play the Blackhawks for the finals. I will be cheering for the latter, almost as enthusiastically as I would have cheered for Montreal had they made it to the finals. Here’s why:
I have come to hate the Flyers as much as the Bruins and almost as much as the Leafs
I have come to hate the Flyers’ fans even more than the Flyers
I like a lot of Chicago players (especially Toews) and the way they play the game
Chicago has always been Nellie’s team, but she cheers for Montreal for my sake. It’s only fair I return the favour
If Chicago wins, the Maple Leafs will be the team who has gone the longest without winning the Stanley Cup. My excitement at this prospect should not be underestimated
So…I’ll take a few days to recover from this heartbreak, and then…go Hawks go.
This past week was frenetic; I’ve definitely earned my day off tomorrow. We’re headed out for a wine excursion in Niagara-On-The-Lake, the first time we’ve left the city since we went to France last fall. The weather is supposed to be shit but I don’t care. I need this. And I need some good food. And I need some fresh air. And I need a comfy hotel bed.