Moving vans have been busy this late spring and early summer as hundreds of hockey fans take up residence on Cloud 9.
We’re talking Montreal Canadiens’ fans, of course.
The Habs, with only 24 wins in 56 games, barely made the playoffs in the National Hockey League’s Canadian Division, considered the weakest of the four in the realigned Covid-19 setup.
They weren’t supposed to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round, but they did, 4 – 3 in the best-of-seven, coming back from a 3 – 1 deficit to do so.
They weren’t supposed to beat Winnipeg Jets in the Canadian Division final, because the Jets had finished four points ahead of Montreal in the regular season.
But they did, impressively, a four-game sweep. And then they definitely weren’t supposed to beat the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup semi-final, because the No. 1-ranked Golden Knights outpointed them by a whopping 23 points (82-59) during the regular season.
So here they are, the Cinderella Habs, vying for their first Stanley Cup since 1993 and creating a hockey frenzy in July in La Belle Province and dozens of pockets of Canada from coast to coast.
Back in the Original Six days of the NHL, Canadian hockey fans generally rooted for either the Canadiens or the Leafs, and those cheering habits were often passed down through generations.
As a result, it’s hard to walk into any bar, or any business, or stop on any block anywhere in English- or French Canada and not find an avid ‘CH’ supporter.
Whether the Habs’ playoff magic carries through to a victory over Tampa Bay Lightning remains to be seen, but it has been a glorious and unforgettable six weeks for fans of the Rouge, Blanc and Bleu. Goalie Carey Price has been sensational, recording a 2.02 goals-against average and .934 save percentage in games leading to the final.
The defence, led by Shea Weber (remember when Habs’ fans lamented the trade bringing Weber to Montreal and sending beloved P.K. Subban to Nashville?), has been rock solid and up front, a collection of trade acquisitions, long-in-the-tooth veterans and blossoming draft picks have combined to provide just enough offence to make this magic happen.
Through three playoff rounds, Montreal had a mere three players among the top 30 playoff scorers — free agent signee Tyler Toffoli was 10th; Nick Suzuki, acquired from Vegas in the 2018 Max Pacioretty deal, was 13th; and 2019 draft pick Cole Caufield, who joined the Habs with 10 games left in the regular season after a stellar college career, was 30th.
It’s been a great ride for the Habs, and their fans couldn’t be more excited. But really, they can’t be expected to beat the defending Cup champion Lightning, can they?
• Phil Mushnick of the New York Post: “MLB fan marketing surveys now include a question as to the political party one is registered, Democrat or Republican. Seriously, as if that’s any of MLB business or should influence its business. I’d go with Bolshevik, on behalf of all the players who choose to Trotsky to first base.”
• Patti Dawn Swansson, on Twitter: “Toronto Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo calling to the bullpen for help is like relying on Tiger Woods for emergency roadside assistance.”
• RJ Currie of sportsdeke.com: “A long-term study of musicians and chess players has led scientists to finally conclude that practice doesn’t makes perfect. Wouldn’t it have been easier to just follow the Toronto Maple Leafs?”
• Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg: “After failing to make his fifth Olympic team, Ryan Lochte said, ‘I wanted to prove so much to everyone.’ ‘That’s great,’ said a man, ‘but can I order my Starbucks latte now’?”
• Kaseberg again: Returning U.S. Open champion, Bryson DeChambeau, shot eight over par on the back nine of the final round. Bryson refused to call it a meltdown. Really? Compared to him, Chernobyl was a slight glitch.”
• Ron Borges of si.com, giving his take on Buffalo wide receiver Cole Beasley saying he won’t get vaccinated and ‘I may die of COVID, but I’d rather die actually living.’:”How many times has this guy been hit in the head again?”
• Headline at theonion.com: “Bob Baffert Once Again Denies Doping Allegations After Medina Spirit Wins Coca-Cola 600.”
• From Fark.com: “Aaron Nola strikes out 10 straight New York Mets, if you wondering why people are abandoning major league baseball in droves.”
• Another one from Fark.com: “Houston Astros have won 11 in a row. Forget foreign substances, MLB should start checking for cameras and trash cans.”
• Steve Simmons of Sun Media: “I’d like to golf with Buck Martinez, if only to hear him chant ‘Get out ball, get out!’ after I’ve hit yet another drive out of bounds.”
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by Bruce Penton