A Team to be Proud Of

You might be wondering why it took me nearly two days to roll out a blog on the Montreal Canadiens game 7 victory. Simply put, I had no words to describe what myself, and nearly every Montreal Canadiens fan, especially the ones in this city, were feeling on Wednesday night.

And really, there ARE NO WORDS to describe it. Even now. We can try to convey the emotions as best we can, we can review the games, specific goals and plays, what many consider turning points in the game, in the series, hell, in the season, for the Montreal Canadiens. But the truth is, this team, and it's connection to THIS CITY, supersedes any analysis I could make right now.

I haven't traveled out of Montreal much, so I can't really speak honestly about many places and their NHL clubs other than what I see from an outsider's perspective, but I can speak for Montreal. Born and raised here, and having followed hockey only through the Canadiens' mediocrity of the past 15 years, I can only speak of the glory days in hindsight, and from the stories we hear, from our families, from our friends, from media personalities and retired players rehashing stories from their past. But I live and breathe Montreal Canadiens, I live and breathe their fans, and what Habs fans collectively experience year in and year out.

One thing that has lasted through all the triumph and glory, as well as the failure and misery, is this team's connection to the fans in this city, and, conversely, the fans' connection to the team itself.

Montreal and it's sports situating is fairly unique. Regarded by many to be the cradle of organized sports, and protector of a team that is arguably the most decorated organization in the history of professional sports, the Canadiens have truly been the only organization this city can be proud of.

Sure, we had the Expos, but other than guys such as Mitch Melnick, the current generation of fans never really felt a connection to that team. Besides, most people still have a sour taste in their mouth left from how that whole situation was handled, but of course that's neither here nor there. The Alouettes, CFL champions, are fun to watch, but they're just what they are... a minor/mid league football team. The Impact is on their way up the ranks, also champions of their second division soccer league and newest members of the MLS, and they're definitely taking advantage of this city's European taste, but they're no Montreal Canadiens.

It doesn't matter where you're from, what language you speak, what political party you voted for. Odds are, if you're a Montrealer, you're a fan of the Canadiens, and you have some sort of connection to this team. You visit one or more Habs-related blogs, preferably this one. You watch nearly every game on RDS, CBC, TSN, or listen to the broadcasts on CKAC or CJAD if you can't get to a TV. You try to go to games, and if you don't have the money, you go to bars or pubs for the atmosphere and numerous screens and passionate fans (ok, for the chicken wings as well).

Montreal IS hockey. Hockey IS Montreal. It's on every car window, every stop sign. It's in every business, in every hope and with every fan.

But for nearly two decades, Montreal has been mediocre hockey.

The Canadiens, going through several stages of bad management and poor operational decisions, have been marred with the longest Stanley Cup drought of their history. They have also seemingly cursed this country, as every single Stanley Cup champion since Patrick Roy stole a 24th championship for the Canadiens, has been based in an American city, despite valiant efforts from the Oilers, Flames and Senators to bring Stanley back to the country in recent years.

If you're optimistic, and you feel anything for this team, you can't help but feel that all of this is about to change.

Call me crazy, but I feel destiny knocking on the door. Call me a homer, but it feels like the Montreal Canadiens aren't nearly done playing hockey this year.

According to every pundit, every expert, every writer, every blogger (myself included), the Canadiens shouldn't be here. It doesn't make any sense. They're too small. They're not tough enough. They're not good enough. They're not well-coached. They haven't been well-managed. They don't put forth the effort and they're not built to win.

Well, guess what? We were all wrong! Every single one of us! Guess what else? They ARE here! Their size HAS NOT been a factor. They HAVE shown that they are tough enough, good enough. Their coach HAS been coaching well, and their management team is starting to look smarter than a lot of us gave them credit for. They HAVE been putting forth the effort.

And you know what? It is starting to make a little sense.

I truly don't mean to get ahead of myself. In fact, I kind of hate to say it. I'm as superstitious as the next guy, I'm as modest about any success this team has as you can be. But since the Canadiens backed their way into the playoffs against the Leafs, since they took to the ice against the behemoth known as the Washington Capitals, things seem to be falling into place for this team.

They haven't been the better team in either of their series. They've blocked more shots than they've pelted on the opposing goaltenders, they haven't really been hitting as often or as hard as their competition, their faceoff percentage is inconsistent, and their defensive zone coverage and forechecking has been shotty at best. But they've made the most of their chances, they've exposed weankesses and shut down threads, and they've done it as a team.

And despite all perceived logic, everything that should have made sense to us over a month ago when the playoffs started, the Canadiens are still standing. The Caps? The Pens? They've packed their bags and they've headed off to Pebble Beach.

And all of a sudden, the Canadiens are no longer the underdogs. The opposing team, whether it will be the Boston Bruins or Philadelphia Flyers, will not be the favorites.

And everyone will start believing in the Canadiens, whether it's good for them or not.

Do they deserve to be here, amongst the final four teams in the league? Amongst the cream of the crop? Amongst, simply put, the best of the best? It's difficult to say, it's arguable, and frankly, it's irrelevant.

The simple truth: They are here. They've made it. And they're 4 wins away from competing for that 25th Stanley Cup Championship, the Stanley Cup Championship that's been just out of their reach for 17 years.

Can they beat the Flyers or Bruins to make it to the finals? Can they beat either team in the finals for the Cup? Can they continue to defy the odds, and any semblance of logic? The simple answer to these questions is that there isn't a legitimate answer. The Canadiens have defied logic, defied reason, and gotten further than anyone could have even fathomed.

Unfortunately, they're only halfway there. And even their journey is nearing it's end, every single Habs fan, every single Montrealer, and even a few Canadians outside of this city, this province, can be proud of this team.

At this point, all we know for sure is that there are many games left to be played, many questions left to be answered and a lot of blogging left to be done.

It's going to be an outstanding conference final. Let's try and enjoy it. There will be coverage, there will be live blogs, and there will be plenty to say over the course of the next two weeks, and we'll be with you every step of the way, through thick and thin.

I'll be back over the weekend to preview whatever series I will be covering.

Enjoy the rainy weather Montreal!

Prax
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