Every year, there is always a post season Cinderella story that defies all the logic and analytics that goes into establishing who is the best and who doesn’t stand a chance. Although it is justifiable to postulate that teams such as the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks have the best chance of winning it all, the fierce underdog can never be underestimated. For the Montreal Canadiens, a squad of defensively dominant athletes, their post-season valiance has been a glorious spectacle to behold. Although the Canadiens one-dimensional strategy of an oppressive defense wasn’t enough to garner them the top seed in their division, it allowed them to clinch a coveted playoff berth. Once the Canadiens emerged onto the playoff scene in game one against the offensively supercharged Tampa Bay lightning, they seamlessly transformed into a versatile juggernaut that could not only stave off a great offense with their impeccable defense, they could now score with the same ease as their offensively gifted opponents. While the Canadiens only averaged 2.5 goals per game during the regular season (21st in the NHL), their impressive sweep of the Lightning was indicative of an elite franchise that had always had an explosive offense as they have averaged four goals per game in their five wins in the playoffs.
What makes the Canadiens emphatic playoff performances so endearing is their unselfishness when comes to facilitating the puck to the player with the best opportunity to score regardless of their scoring prowess. Although defenseman P.K. Subban isn’t known for his wily shooting abilities, his fierce vigilance allowed him to score two crucial goals against the Boston Bruins in game one of the conference semi-finals. Not only were Subban’s goals essential for the Canadiens to out last the Bruins in double overtime, they were the motivating factors for the how the Canadiens got off to a hot start initially while being able to stave off a late Bruins come back in the third period.
Of course, while Subban’s offensively sound contributions as a defenseman are sensational to say the least, the unexpected goal scoring proficiencies of left winger Rene Bourque have been the highlight of the Canadiens offensive surge in the playoffs. Although Bourque only scored nine goals throughout the entirety of the regular season, the post season has been his long awaited coming out party as he as already scored four goals and has an elite plus/minus rating of six (had a plus/rating of -1 during the regular season).
Although it may be premature to suggest that the Canadiens are on their way to winning the Eastern Conference, their post-season surge is a showcase of what it means to fight valiantly regardless of the perceptions of those who may have written off this team as a one and done club in the playoffs. In any sport, the team that has the biggest chip on their shoulder is usually the one that has the best chance of winning it all when everything is on the line. While it could be argued that the underdog doesn’t always get the last laugh in post-season affairs, the stage in which these teams play on is an equal playing field that gives the teams who may have limped into the playoff a chance to rewrite their destiny. Despite the fact that the regular season Canadiens were consistently offensively challenged, they didn’t allow this predisposed identity to get in the way of what their ultimate goal was in the first place: to win the Stanley Cup. Even though the Canadiens have a storied history of being the most dominant program in the history of the NHL with 24 Stanley Cup victories, they haven’t been an aggressive contender as of recently as their last Stanley Cup win came in 1993. While two decades may not seem like a long time given that their teams out their that have yet to house a the Stanley Cup within their respective stadiums, for a hockey club that was practically flawless for three decades during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, twenty years is a blatant discrepancy for an organization that once prided itself on being a championship contender season in and season out.
In the end, the Canadiens have set themselves up to go the distance for the first time since they lost to the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2010 Stanley Cup Conference Finals. While the road to the final series is never easy, the Canadiens have the luxury of being able to alter their athletic attributes on the fly, which is a rare quality that even the best teams lack. If the Canadiens can continue to play their unique style of hockey while disregarding what the naysayers will inevitably say as leverage to dissuade this team from reaching their ultimate goal, this legendary franchise could easily go farther than anyone ever expected them to this year.