There is nothing more exciting than being a Montreal Canadiens fan nowadays, after an amazing season and the centenary. But for most of us, there is this one thing: for the first time in many many years, we can give a look at the cup and say it's possible.
Because this is what it is all about, right? We can talk about transition periods. We can talk about amazing improvements. But in the end, one thing matters: did you or did you not hoist the Cup?
Just take a look at last season.
We came first in the East, which made the joy of the entire city - why wouldn't we? We passed the first round, and people were burning cars on Sainte Catherine!
I remember after the game seven against the Bruins, with the 5-0 win. There was this fan interviewed outside the Bell Center; who said "we're going to win the Cup, we have the goalie for it." The next round might have been the Bruins' favourite, when the "goalie for it" apparently couldn't take it anymore!
The Philadelphia Flyers made it clear that a number one spot doesn't imply the highway to the finals. Yes, Flyers, it still hurts. Sigh.
In 1993, head coach Jacques Demers made it clear for his guys, they had to create the surprise, coming fifth in the East. As Patrick Roy recalled those moments, they were joking in the room that a couple of drastic changes had to be made then. But they did it. They brought the 24th cup to Montreal. Since then, the cup hasn't touched the Canadian land yet.
So almost every year, when they get into the playoffs, you hope for the best, even with a so-so team. A best that was usually far, too far, and turned out to be long summers of blaming sessions!
This year, it seems they have a shot at it. Frankly, it was about time.
However, my concern isn't about the pressure of the playoffs, or of the high expectations. It is about the injuries, the chocking, those little things that might put the team in jeopardy.
With Bob Gainey's gutsy deal with Cristobal Huet, there is no need to say Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak have a lot to carry on those young shoulders.
But what if Price gets injured? I am sure Jaroslav Halak could be the man for the job, and he wouldn't miss this opportunity to show what he is capable of. But it still would be very tricky. Excuse me, did you just say Marc Denis?
Like any other team, the Montreal Canadiens have their highlight players. For the Tricolore, Alex Kovalev seems to be the man. His line brought nearly 35% of the goals, with Montreal coming third behind the Detroit Red Wings and the San Jose Sharks. What if he doesn't keep up?
Same thing about the Power play. We have seen what happened during last playoffs, once the Flyers shut down the man advantage. Around 90 goals have been scored on the power play, with Mark Streit recording seven of them, with 27 power play assists.
The Habs were lucky to have him replace Sheldon Souray. What if by any misfortune he leaves at his turn an empty post?
The pre-season showed what can happen in the room due to injuries. Eight veterans were on the sideline, groin injury for some, "lower body injury" for others.
Francis Bouillon won't play the season opener against the Sabres; while Chris Higgins and his groin injury are still stuck out of the ice. For the info, Guillaume Latendresse might open with Koivu and Tanguay. Georges Laraque might miss the season opener as well. Nice start, isn't it?
Thankfully, Carbonneau's four line-method made it easy for the team last year. And the trend should keep up this time as well.
The players also had regular breaks during the season, to be able to rest. The veterans who did not feel the need to practice but instead relax or do some off-ice work out were welcomed to do so.
The medical staff also made sure the room was clean from any virus. For the matter, Roman Hamlrik has been put into "quarantine" for several days last season!
Yes, the Montreal Canadiens is a fine team, even a more than fine team. They have a lot of skills, speed and they have Georges Laraque!
But I believe no team will ever be free from question marks. They'll have to watch out to prove that last year wasn't some product of the hazard, or some stars alignment or such fortune telling stuff!