We got our hats handed to us by a better team in our Game 1 loss to Tampa. We outplayed Tampa in Game 2, but we were thwarted by an unbelievable performance by their goaltender. As I sit here looking forward to the weekend, I am excited that this evening’s Game 3 between the Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning is in Montreal, and the Forum Ghosts know where it is.
For many years, I was a snob. I always said that the Habs do not celebrate any trophy except for the Stanley Cup. I grew up during a dynasty, one of the greatest in hockey history. At that time there were only 18 teams in the NHL, European players rare and Soviet (Russian, Czech, etc…) players non-existent. The game was just different. In the 1978-79 campaign (the last year of the last Habs dynasty) there were two players on the squad of 26 who were not born in Canada… both of whom were sons of Canadian diplomats born abroad. On this year’s 28-man roster, Montreal has only 16 Canadian players, plus four Americans, three Finns, and one each from Czech Republic, France, Russia, Slovakia, and Sweden. There are also 31 teams in the league, most of which have a lot more money to throw at their teams than Montreal does. It is a very different game today than it was when I was growing up.
During those dynasty years – at the end of which I was about to turn seven-years-old – it was never a question of who the best team in hockey was; the question was, who is going to play against Montreal for the Cup. Today it is different… so different. From nearly the puck drop Monday evening it was clear that Tampa Bay is the better team. As I have written before, Montreal has heart and the ghosts, but they just could not compete Monday. Wednesday we upped our game, but could not solve the problem of their goaltender. Tonight we need to bring the same energy and heart we played with on Wednesday, and we need to summon the Forum Ghosts to help us beat Vasilevskiy. If we do that, then we can come out of this game with a win.
With that said, there is a daunting statistic that I saw the other day. Of the 55 times a team has gone ahead 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Finals, that team has won 49 times. On the one hand, that means we are definitely behind the eight-ball. On the other hand, it means that Montreal, who this season has defied all odds and beaten every negative prediction, can do it one more time because while rare it is not unheard of for a team down 2-0 in the SCF to come back and win. We were not supposed to make the playoffs; We had a miraculous comeback against the Toronto Maple Leafs, against all odds we swept Winnipeg, and there was not an oddsmaker in the world who predicted we would defeat Las Vegas. The 2020-21 Montreal Canadiens are a team that have consistently defied the odds and won when we had no business winning. We can do it again.
…If we do not, then for the first time in my lifetime I will still be thrilled that they won the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, and I might even treat myself to a new Canadiens jersey… with the Stanley Cup FINAL patch on the chest.
For the record, the last time Montreal lost in the Stanley Cup Finals (1989) it would not have occurred to me to by gear commemorating anything other than a win. I am a lot older, much wiser, and with 28-years since our last appearance in the Finals, I am proud of our boys and what they have accomplished… even if they do not bring the Cup home.