Toronto Maple Leafs-Montreal Canadiens: Habs Clinch, We're All So Happy, Right?

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Toronto Maple Leafs-Montreal Canadiens: Habs Clinch, We're All So Happy, Right?
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

Montreal 3 Toronto 4 OT (Bell Centre)

At the end of regulation time, with the score tied 3-3, Bell Centre fans jumped to their feet and gave their team a thunderous standing ovation. With a single point, their beloved Canadiens had clinched a spot in the playoffs.

Few minded that the Habs squeaked into the post-season in game 82.

No one seemed to recognize that the opponent was the 29th place team in the league.

When Dion Phaneuf scored the Leafs' fourth goal at the 2:05 mark of overtime, ending a very rough night for Jaroslav Halak, the fans once again rose. Canadiens players gathered at center ice and raised their sticks in salute.

How emotional! Fans and players were connecting.

After back-to-back shutout wins to begin April, the Habs were counting their schedule-maker blessings with final week games against three non-playoff teams.

It didn't quite work out as planned. The touching connection, and the celebration followed a loss tonight, the Canadiens' third straight.

"We found a way of making it hard on ourselves, so its doubling the pleasure for us now," said Marc-Andre Bergeron. "Now that we’re in, it’s mission accomplished.”

That's why I'm feeling odd about this game. It must be because I'm feeling twice as much happiness. Yes, that must be it.

Maybe the so-called "non-emotional" coach can explain why fans and players alike are in a celebratory mood.

"The fact that we made it (the playoffs). Our goal is achieved," said a smiling Jacques Martin.

At that point, a light bulb went on. How silly of me? I wasn't feeling the merriment of others, but not because I'm a curmudgeon. It was because I forgot about the "new goal."

My insightful friend Kyle Roussel recently wrote, "Some years ago after the Roy trade, when it was clear to the organization that they had lost their way, they shifted their focus from winning the Cup to merely making the playoffs. With that, marketing took over (hello Boivin and Lalonde) and they managed to successfully convince the craziest fans in hockey that making the playoffs was now the benchmark. The ultimate goal."

Kyle is correct. Making the playoffs are not only the new goal, but the ultimate goal. See, I got the memo, but I just hadn't yet assimilated.

Well, to all of you, I apologize for being so gloomy. Please bear with me as it may take some time to get used to wearing this new outfit. Now I understand why other franchises hoist banners other than those commemorating Stanley Cups to the rafters of their arenas.

I suppose the Canadiens policy will be updated soon. I will have all summer to talk myself into getting excited when I see the "Best NHL team in Quebec (for now)" banner raised in October.

Yes I did read (or write) something recently about mediocrity being the new norm of the Canadiens.

You know, it's starting to make sense.

With the Canadiens being down by two goals in the last game against Carolina, I was puzzled by Jacques Martin's decision to give Halak the stop sign for the extra attacker as the clock approached 90 seconds left. With the "new goal" in mind I now understand why there was no urgency.

It also helps to explain why the coach chose the final two games of the season to destroy the spirit and confidence of two key players. One has provided third line offense and been stellar while serving penalty-killing duty. The other is the team's only physical defenseman who regularly leads the team in hits and blocked shots.

But with the Canadiens so close to their "ultimate goal" it was a perfect time for the coach to assert his authority and re-open old wounds. With the playoffs just being bonus time, those players won't be needed.

This whole new approach even allows me to be happy for Leafs center Christian Hanson. Poor kid hadn't scored yet this season and only had one career NHL goal to date. Tonight he scored two goals (one short-handed), and was a goal-post away from a hat trick. Who cares that both goals were weak efforts on Halak's part?

I think I'm making progress. I said "Who cares?"

The problem is that the last sentence of the previous paragraph is bringing out the curmudgeon in me again. I know we are supposed to be dizzy with celebrating by now, but wasn't anyone else concerned about the four ordinary goals given up by Halak tonight?

Shouldn't we be worried that Halak only has three wins in his last nine starts going into the playoffs? I know it was a tough night for Halak because his agent Alan Walsh wasn't trashing Carey Price on Twitter. Halak even decided he wouldn't be available to the media after the game.

When Price opted to skip the postgame media scrum, he was dubbed a malcontent. The French press talked about Price's attitude problem, and soon after, the Gazette's Pat Hickey became a card-carrying member of Team Halak and chief advocate.

So, I am puzzled again. Halak is struggling and isn't willing to face the media, yet no one bats an eye. Can any of you stop doing cartwheels and please explain?

Oh, I see. Thanks. I should have known. It's another fan/media double standard.

But before we start another rousing chorus of "O-le, O-le..." I have a few final questions.

During the season, the Habs were 28-8-2 coming into this game when scoring first. They scored first tonight, yet lost. Similarly, the Canadiens were 26-2-2 when leading after two periods. They led, but lost.

Statistics don't determine performance but on a night that was virtually a playoff game for the Canadiens, they couldn't muster even a typical effort.

Perhaps most disturbing is that once again, the Canadiens lost when scoring three goals. Two losses with three goal efforts by the offense is concerning for a team that has struggled at times with goal support. Prior to this week, the Habs' record when scoring three times was 33-3-3.

Does that mean we will hear the Habs' goaltending controversy resurrected during the next few days?

There I go again with my serious questions. Such a killjoy. Many of you are probably saying "Who cares?"

"Who cares?" said Mike Cammalleri in the Montreal dressing room after the game. "Now we're getting ready for the playoffs. Now it begins."

Thanks for the reminder, Mike! So if the Canadiens' first round opponent is Washington, Buffalo or New Jersey (to be determined on Sunday), we should all relax and enjoy. After all, now that the organizational goal has been achieved, the rest is just gravy.


Rocket's three stars


1. Christian Hanson
2. Andrei Markov
3. Viktor Stalberg

Special mention: Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta

Player quotes from wire services were used in this report

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