Let me preface this post by saying that I do not think it will happen. Only once in the history of the Stanley Cup Finals has a team come back from a 0-3 deficit… the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs came back and beat the Detroit Red Wings. While I like the idea of making history (and at the same time, doing something that only the Maple Leafs have done), I am also realistic enough to know that it is extremely unlikely.
Monday evening (it was actually the afternoon, due to time zones) I walked over to my cigar lounge, I hung my Canadiens flag on the door, and I said a little prayer. While I am not certain, I do not believe our team has ever been swept 4-0 in the Stanley Cup Finals… not in 33 appearances since the NHL was established. In fact, I do not think they were ever down 3-0 in an SCF… but that I could be wrong about. If we lost last night it would have been dark and sad, and so I said a little prayer to let them win at least one game.
My father always said that having a two goal lead was not enough. Here we were, 180 minutes of play into the series, and Nos Canadiens had not held a lead… not even once. So when they came out last night and scored (on only their second shot of the game) to take the lead at 15:39 of the first period, we were all on our feet.
The score was 1-0… and then 1-1 after 2. We went ahead again briefly in the third period, but five minutes later Tampa tied it again. With five minutes left to play, it was a 2-2 game. Montreal had been up twice in the game, but it was tied again.
With a minute left in regulation time, Montreal took a bad penalty. Let me clarify… it was the right call, but it was a stupid violation that shouldn’t have happened. It put Shea Weber – Montreal’s captain, the top defender, and the top penalty killer – into the box for four minutes. During the intermission, the NBC Sports commentators all agreed that, despite Montreal’s excellent penalty killing, there would almost certainly be a goal in the three minutes they had left on the power play.
Our boys killed off the penalty (by the skin of their teeth)… and a minute later they did it. They scored! They staved off elimination… they staved off the sweep! They also won their first SCF game in 28 years… and the first ever in Centre Bell.
Earlier Monday, Tampa’s Mayor Castor suggested publicly that the team should throw the fourth game so that they could win the Stanley Cup in front of their home town crowd. Had I been Coach Cooper I would have responded thusly: “Madame Mayor, I will not tell you how to run your city; do not try to tell me how to run my hockey team. Also, ask the Black Socks how it works out throwing games.” Anyone who watched the game will testify that Tampa Bay did not throw the game; it was a hard fought battle from beginning to end. Tampa played a huge game, outshooting Montreal 34-21 (including the first 11 shots on goal of the game). There were penalties and there were fights (at one point, both penalty boxes were full, with 3 players per side taken off for 2). There was emotion… and at the end of the game, there were 3500 fans inside the Bell Centre and 25000 fans outside who went wild.
There are a lot of reasons why you do not throw games. One of them is that you lose momentum. Tonight’s game is back in Tampa, and Montreal has the Big Mo for the first time in the series. While Mayor Castor might have wanted a home town victory, it would be terribly deflating for her team to lose tonight and have to go back to Montreal to play a Game Six.
Terrible for them… but oh, so amazing for the fans.