Still Talkin' Habs: Is this the start of something special for the Montreal Canadiens?
Published Friday, June 25, 2021 7:38AM EDT Last Updated Friday, June 25, 2021 1:00PM EDT
MONTREAL -- Is this happening? That is the question on the mind of every Habs fan, in some form or another.
Whether it be in the deep recesses of the mind or on the tip of the tongue of those that live and die with every shot or save, post or pad, celebration or crushing defeat.
The Montreal Canadiens have beaten the Las Vegas Golden Knights and will advance to the Stanley Cup finals.
Fans of the winningest organization in hockey have been teased before in the not-so-distant past.
Taking care of some guys named Ovechkin and Crosby in 2010 led to nothing, les Glorieux were eventually vanquished by the terrific goaltending of one Michael Leighton…
In 2014, on the back of the best season by a goaltender this century, after moving past a pesky Lightning team and the always-hateable Boston Bruins, a potential Cup run ended with a Chris Kreider skate to a Carey Price knee.
And the Canadiens have stumbled on since. Stumbled through the longest Stanley Cup drought in franchise history.
Stumbled through a long-departed third overall pick whose position remains a mystery.
Stumbled through the trading away of two players expected to be the leaders of the organization for a decade.
Stumbled through a reset/reload with lowered expectations for what the impending 12 months may hold for the bleu, blanc et rouge.
Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has raised those expectations with what nearly everyone in hockey circles has called the best offseason in the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year of 2020.
Need a fresh Carey Price come playoff time? Survey says?
Stanley Cup winner and former Montreal Junior Jake Allen, who has thrived in a back-up role for the St. Louis Blues the past two seasons.
Need bigger forwards to drive play in the offensive zone?
Who are Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli?
The latter is another hoister of Lord Stanley’s mug coming off one of the most productive pro-rated years of his career; the former a freight train of a hockey player, armed with a long-term deal and a desire to prove to everyone that a 27 goal campaign in Columbus was no fluke, but rather a precursor to sustained success.
Need to be a tougher team to play against? Come on down, Joel Edmundson and Corey Perry, both players with reputations to hit-to-hurt now and ask questions later.
Of course, there is the old adage of the best-laid plans and all that. Questions do abound.
Can young centers Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi continue to take the next step in their respective careers?
Is this the year the legs fall off of Perry or, heaven forbid, captain, team dad and man-mountain Shea Weber?
Who does the team turn to in crunch time without a true superstar?
Was the Habs' performance in the bubble a sign of things to come or a month-long flash in the pan, like their Eastern Conference finals appearances in ‘10 and ‘14?
Will the powerplay and penalty kill live up to the moniker of ‘special’ teams or will they be dumpster fires that plunge the Canadiens into prolonged death spirals of defeat that have plagued this team the past couple of years?
If the hellscape we have all lived through this past year has taught us anything, it is that crazier things have, in fact, happened.
Now, the Canadiens are contenders for the most beautiful trophy in pro sports. Again, crazier things have happened.
The Habs have taken concrete steps towards a date with destiny.
Should expectations for this team be a Stanley Cup? Yes.
The goal of this team isn't to just be in the playoffs, as Bergevin has repeated year after year.
The goal for the Montreal Canadiens is now a Stanley Cup.
The near 30 years of melancholy mediocrity endured by this fan base must be put to bed for the foreseeable future.
This is it.
This is the time to believe in the best goaltender in the game of the past decade.
This is the time to believe that a top 10 prospect pool in the league can push and replace pricey veterans over the coming years.
This is the time to believe that the reset will beckon a return to glory for the CH.
This is the time to believe that the organization will do whatever it takes to take a shot, year after year, at the ultimate prize.
This is the buzz that Bergevin and company have provided this offseason.
A commitment to balance and depth to counter the superstars of the north division.
A shift from punching above their weight to hanging with the big boys. Can they do it? We shall see.
There is now a sense of long-dormant optimism in the city that has not been felt for a long time now.
It reminds me of the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And then one fine morning – so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
To Fitzgerald, the promise and chase of future success undoubtedly led to the reliving of a painful past.
But for an organization with the history of the Canadiens, fans would love nothing more than to ride that current to the time of parades down Sainte-Catherine Street... for Beliveau, Richard and Lafleur, for a past when the Stanley Cup was an attainable goal for les Glorieux.
It starts tonight. The Cup window is officially open.
Breathe in the fresh air of a new era for the Montreal Canadiens.