This has been a hockey postseason of the unprecedented and miraculous feats, with the audacity of Canada’s emergence in the NHL to renew a cultural event north of the border. The sport originated in Canada, a prominent atmosphere where the masses are entertained and embraces a thrilling game played on thick layers of ice.
There’s no doubt the homeland is worshipping an astounding moment, a showpiece accomplished brilliantly by the Montreal Canadiens. Who believed that a hockey franchise from the native country would stun the world with its surging dominance in the unfriendly confines at hostile venues, where the Canadiens forced two Game Sevens in two different series? Who would bet an eighth-seeded team, raising its notability and declaring admiration for a star-studded performance in two series, while wooing us that winning the Stanley Cup is possible?
Upon glancing at the serious, cohesive, and tough-driven Canadiens, they are currently forging a radiant dream in Canada. Once again, an inexplicable dream transformed into legitimacy, and presented the parallels of Team Canada’s stunning gold medal win at the Vancouver Games over two months ago. That wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did. This wasn’t supposed to happen either, but it did.
The NHL playoffs were thrilled to intrigue the hearts of the casual fan and revive a defaced sport in a patriotic nation, overly obsessed with and fond of football and basketball. The cultural standpoints of hockey is an emotional and physical game, known for the high-intense drama and adrenaline rush, known for the physical knockouts and exchanged dukes whenever a player is irritated of the hard hits or high-sticking.
Basically, hockey is experiencing a Canadian dream, all emerging in a year Canada reclaims a sport the homeland originated and taught kids how to compete with cohesiveness, tenacity and physicality—a few elements the Canadiens brought to our attention when they faced off against Washington in the first round and then the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern semifinals. Their instincts were simply impressive, shocking all populace with an eye-opener of defeats. You grasped that Montreal’s psyche was underestimated with the massive size and experience of talented franchises it had to face.
But it turns out that the Canadiens were the unbeatable and challenging team in these playoffs after all, this time dethroning the defending champs with a 5-2 win in Pittsburgh of Game Seven on Wednesday and ultimately clinched a berth to the Eastern Conference Finals. How is this possible?
The Canadiens challenged the Penguins’ tactics with strategic mind games and were successful of minimizing reliance. As a result, it was the second time in their 100-year history that Montreal won consecutive seven-game series in the same postseason. This year alone, the Canadiens were vulnerable of futility and a first-round ouster, before their ultimate effort diverted much assumption that any other team could be honored with the Stanley Cup.
And ever since stunning the Capitals and now the Penguins, the Canadiens are suddenly the elite franchise to survive and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s normal to suggest that this is a wonderful tale being written in the recent chapter of the underdogs. As it stands, they’ve defied the logic of heavyweights by coming to life when it matters, understanding the importance of excelling against the top-of-the-line teams and surmounted to greatness.
In theory, a dynasty was anticipated by the Penguins after winning its first title since the ’92 season, with a world-class superstar and virtuous leader in Crosby, who has knowledge for the game and is exceptional in the sport he engaged in. He has accomplished individual achievements at a very young age, something rarely seen at the premature stages of a career. He was known for receiving the nod, but now it’s the Canadiens getting the praise, particularly goalie Jaroslav Halak, faced with the toughest assignment by protecting the net, stopped the pucks shot in his direction and accumulated a large total of saves.
It figured the Canadiens are very difficult to terminate from contention, as Halak continues his sheer dominance in front of the nets. It’s likely impossible to slide a shot by him, when he faces 40 shots or more. He’s a durable goalie at the right time, defending his domain better than any goaltender in the postseason after shutting down Alex Ovechkin and Crosby. Early on, he was near-perfect in saves and saw 21 shots in two periods, and unfortunately, the Penguins never had an answer to give the Canadians an unsympathetic fight.
Even though they cut into the deficit and scored twice in the second half, it wasn’t enough to rally back late in front of an ecstatic crowd that suddenly sat quietly when Montreal persistently fired shots and extended the lead. At times, Pittsburgh was as cold as a normal Penguin. And deep into the postseason, the Canadiens can beat any team after playing superb defense and firing shots against the defending champs. If you beat the defending champs, who else is there to beat?
The imagery here defines the best team in hockey. There was Brian Gionta setting the tone early with a shot to score on a critical goal, Dominic Moore scored minutes later for the second on crafty turnaround shot and Mike Cammalleri, who is the hottest player in the postseason, scored his seventh goal of the series and extended the lead to three when Chris Kunitz forced a turnover.
Best of all, he taunted and pulverized the Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. All of a sudden, he collapsed and played inconsistently allowing too many shots and reminded us of stumbles last postseason in the earlier rounds. Cammalleri was quicker than most defenders and attacked in an onslaught inside the Penguins zone, finishing for his playoff-leading 12th goal.
Ten seconds into the game, Crosby sat in the penalty box after he was whistled for boarding. And from there, watched hopes degenerate of emerging as NHL’s first back-to-back Stanley Cup champs in years, victimized of the Canadiens' pressure. They pressured the Penguins, and were able to shut down a ferocious franchise. Even a relentless comeback fell apart, when they fell behind four goals, not even was Evgeni Malkin or Crosby factors and weren’t valuable or active within a critical contest.
And amazingly, Halak was untested and effortlessly controlled the nets with his pivotal saves, a primary essential in the first series against Washington when he clearly agitated and halted Ovechkin. The lackluster performance killed Pittsburgh when it turned over the puck 14 times and had another six stripped.
There was no dynasty writing greatness, but a miracle writing a magical story in sports. All praise goes to Montreal, the newest and cutest hockey tale. We now can remove the underdog tag and realize this isn’t a mirage, but a team built for destruction and dramatic finishes, prevailing on the biggest stage of a best-of-seven series.
“We played Washington, we were supposed to get killed, we played these guys, we were supposed to get killed, it’s just nice to be part of a team that gets it done,” said defenseman Hal Gill.
While most of the world expected a duel between Crosby and Ovechkin, the Canadiens revealed defensive toughness, a well-known trademark and a useful element for prevailing in the spotlight.
“Nobody has given us a chance so it’s a lot of fun to be a part of this,” Cammalleri said. “There’s something pretty special going on here.”
It’s a wonderful Canadian story.
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