Thursday, April 29, 2010

Montreal Miracle

You know that dream where you're trying really hard to move and you can't? You feel like you've been reduced to some baby like state, wanting desperately to move ahead but completely unable to get your body to respond. It sometimes happens when we're trying to run away from something in the dream or when we have to do one thing that we just can't do in order to make the dream stop.

You know that other dream you sometimes have when you start off in one place and then end up somewhere completely different, but have no idea how you got there? You just sort of move effortlessly through time and space and all of a sudden, you are where you didn't expect to be.

Dream one has got to be the way that Alexander Ovechkin feels today. It seemed like all he had to do was just move faster, hit harder, charge the net more in order to stop the Montreal Canadiens. But somehow, he just couldn't get things to happen for him. You can see it in his face in post-game interviews, where the normally dynamic rock star of the NHL hung his head in disbelief, words unable to express the sadness and shock of the loss. In many ways, it must have felt like that dream, unreal, scary, strange.

But what happened for the Montreal Canadiens was the second dream. Starting the first round of the playoffs off just inching into that last spot, I don't believe that the Canadiens themselves believed that they would suddenly find themselves where they are today. Unlike the strange, incomprehensible nature of dreams where you start off in your kitchen and then end up in the house that you grew up in decades ago, this move was planned and calculated. But who could have predicted the outcome?

One of the Habs that probably did was Mike Cammaleri. By the way that he was leaning over with his hand on his hip in the post-game interview with that big smile on his face, you'd think that he had locked up the series all by his wonderful self. With a point a game, it's hard to argue that fact. What a way to redeem himself after season long rumours of locker room drama between him and other members of the team.

But the real hero of this series was no doubt between the pipes. Halak is going to have a new God-like following in the city of Montreal, after his hard fought show of skill and mettle that is reflective of his performance for Slovakia at the Vancouver Olympics. That performance almost shut Canada down, which people should keep in mind whenever they doubt the older, more seasoned goaltender who always should have been the star over the younger, undisciplined Carey Price.

Guess the whole flip-flopping over the goaltender situation in Montreal will come to an abrupt stop. Halak is the new toast of the town and nobody will be able to take away this seventh heaven match up from him, nor will they forget his 53 stops in a breathtaking game 6. Regardless of the outcome of the second round of the Stanley Cup finals, Halak will have a lasting legacy in Montreal.

So what exactly happened to the Washington Capitals? You could say a lot about the shaky goaltender situation, but Varlamov was solid for the Caps and didn't get blown out of his net with goals. You could say a fair bit about the Montreal defense, playing tight on the Capitals and not backing off, with Spacek's great perfomance in the first few games on Ovechkin. But the defense wasn't tight all of the time, and it's not clear that this was the real difference-maker, especially considering some of the mistakes, bad penalties and a certain someone's theatrics when it comes to diving (Lapierre). And the offense was good, but the scores are not an indication of clear offensive dominance either.

Where Montreal truly deserves credit is the fact that they beat Washington as a team. There is no one star player that took out the top seed. There is no one man who contained the Russian bear. People discounted Montreal not only for their low rank at the end of the regular season, but also for their size. But as small people all know, when you're smaller, you have to try harder. The only way to tame a bear is to do it together. We are stronger together.

Not to take credit away from Montreal, but there is one more factor in Washington's ousting which has nothing to do with stats or plays. It's the President's Cup curse. Every team that has won the prize for the most points in the regular season has been eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup finals. It's as if the hockey gods find it unfair that one team may win two Cups. You may call this silly, but how silly does it feel to see San Jose hoisting the Cup in the EA Sports simulation, only to be taken out in the first round two years in a row? And now that the curse has been lifted off the Sharks, guess who's lived to see the second round?

It's gotten to the point in the NHL where teams refuse to touch the Cup in the year that they win, choosing instead to circle around it nervously as if it's part of some strange pagan ritual. Can't say that I blame them, though. Sports and superstitions do come together and we all believe strange things when our dreams are on the line.

To the boys in the stands, bowing down to Halak in the old style "we're not worthy" Wayne's World rock god worship- save your energy. You may be doing a lot more of that in the future.

Bonne chance les Habs.

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