• Underdog team that was expected to lose in the first round. Check.
• Small scrappy forward playing the best hockey of his career and leading a team to upsets. Check.
• Unknown goaltender who took the starting job mid-season and lead the team to a strong playoff run. Check
• New coach who struggled to install his system only to watch his team blossom in the playoffs. Check.
If you think I am referencing the Montreal Canadiens, Kirk Muller, Patrick Roy and Jacques Demers, you are wrong. I am referencing the 1993 Toronto Maple Leafs cinderella run lead by Doug Gilmour, Felix Potvin and Pat Burns.
In reality the parallels have nothing to do with hockey and everything to do with the fans.
Over the last 2 years I have awoken to the fact that every fanbase is essentially the same and their attitude, behaviour and demeanour is predicated on their surroundings. If a life long Hab fan born in Laval had been born in Mississauga, their allegiance would likely lie with the Maple Leafs. If your father raised you as a Canadiens fan, you would likely inherit his passion, but what if he was a Leaf fan? If your team was terrible for 40 seasons, you would likely be insecure. If your team won 24 Cups in 100 years, you would likely carry a sense of entitlement.
Two things changed my perception. The Red Sox/Yankees rivalry and my descension from an entitled confident fan to an insecure paranoid one.
The Red Sox fanbase was the most insecure in sports. They expected the worst from their team, they hated the Yankees because they represented everything that was wrong with sports. "Their fanbase was arrogant and they spent too much money and this lead to an unfair playing field". They envied the Yankees and spent every day praying they would live to see just one championship. When the Sox finally did win, their fanbase morphed into the entity they despised more than anything. They were arrogant, after two titles they developed a sense of entitlement and watched their team outspend everybody not named the Yankees and became the bully on the block. While this was happening, the Yankees blew a 3-0 series lead and had become the paranoid fanbase, the ones expecting the coming implosion.
As a Canadiens fan through 1994, my idea of a bad season was the Habs amassing 100 points and being upset in the first round of the playoffs. This was my low point. After the 1984-1993 run my ego and sense of entitlement ran through the roof to the point where I would literally be upset if the Canadiens won a game and gave up more than 3 goals, because "it wasn't enough for them to win, I needed them to win the Jennings trophy as well". I was so spoiled I had decided to add a degree of difficulty to their wins. Add in the 1993 Stanley Cup and my ego was soaring. I looked down at Leaf fans for throwing a parade after a playoff victory and said things like "Canadiens fans don't do that" and "Act like you have been there before" I would preach to Leaf fans after they went crazy after each win. When they made any type of retort I would respond with "1967" essentially playing to their insecurity and shutting them down. Some attempted to continue fighting, but when your team has not made a Cup Final in four decades it is usually no more than a nonsensical rant.
After Patrick Roy was traded, the worm slowly began to turn. After brief flirtations between 1996-1998 the Canadiens began to descend into mediocrity. During the dark days my expectations began to plummet and every slight glimpse of joy was always derailed by a stomach punch loss. In 2002 the Canadiens blew a 3-0 third period lead and almost killed me in the process. The expectation that the Canadiens would somehow blow a late lead became such a frequent occurance over the last decade that collapses like Game 2 against the Capitals rolled off my back.
The culmination of this was April 7, 2007. The Canadiens vs the Maple Leafs. The most contrived over hyped battle for 17th place of ALL-TIME. Add in the Bell Center being sold out nightly and the Canadiens selling every item they could place a 100th Anniversary logo on and the cold slap of reality revealed that the Canadiens had become a carbon copy of MLSE. Nothing wraps the whole nonsense of one upsmanship than the Sloan song Coax Me.
This is what it boils down to. This is a giant ego filled pissing contest between two fanbases that will never admit defeat. Fans who if they were on the other side of the argument would agree 100% with the person they are arguing with. They are essentially mad at themselves because they are exactly the same.
My whole perception of the Canadiens had been radically altered based entirely on things I could not control. After the Washington series I rejected the notion that a first round victory was worthy of a parade. I became guilty of what I accused Red Fisher and others of with their narrow belief of what a Montreal Canadiens player/fan should be. It was based on things that transpired in a 6 to 18 team league over 30 years ago. When the old guard tried to eviscerate Patrick Roy and his right to have his number retired I was angry that they were arrogantly ignoring my generations Jean Beliveau/Lafleur/Richard. He was my link, he was what connected me to the glorious history of this team, he made me feel as though I belonged and I could relate to my fathers stories of dynasties past. The old guard didn't seem to care, they lived in a time bubble where fans wore suits and fedoras to the game and the Canadiens won every 3rd season.
Every generation of Montreal children born since 1950 has had the fortune of witnessing a Stanley Cup champion, except the current one. Anybody born between 1987 and 2000 has zero recollection of the 1993 team. Talking to people on messageboards presents you with a shocking tale of the glory days of Oleg Petrov, Richard Zednik and Jose Theodore, their most glorious Canadiens memories. While I still reject the notion of Halak as a clone of Roy until he wins the Stanley Cup, I understand why the fanbase clings to it, they are searching for their link. Their 1986, their 1993.
I have been there. In 1984 I clung to a nobody named Steve Penney as my link. As a 10 year old all I had was four seasons of heartbreak to reference, I have zero recollection of the late 70s dynasty. My childhood hero was not MY HERO, he was my fathers and in 1984 I had to watch him retire as a shadow of his former self. In the schoolyard I watched all the Islanders fans with envy, wishing I could understand. Then the 1984 miracle lead me to a different place. I was sucked in whole heartedly and enjoyed every second of the short lived Penney era. I began to understand the joys of following the Montreal Canadiens.
THIS is the next generations moment, as much as I am on the ride, it is ultimately their ride. It is their chance to understand the joys of being a Canadiens fan, their link to glory, their realization of their individual hero and I couldn't be happier. Which brings me back to 1993. I finally understand the magic that transpired in Leaf Nation that spring. I understand why all my peers lost their minds and the majority of them still wear Gilmour, Clark and Potvin jerseys. They had been starved for success their whole lives and their passion and love finally exploded to the surface during their unexpected run. They didn't care if it was irrational, they didn't care if they were ultimately going to be disappointed. They latched onto the moment not knowing if it would ever happen again. Will 2010 end like 1993 did for the Canadiens or Maple Leafs? Who knows, but it is going to be fun finding out.
After emotionally divesting myself for protection during the early portion of this run, Travis Moen finally reeled me in last night. His goal that made it 4-0 set me up for the expectation of the 3rd round, when the Pens battled back to 4-2 I melted down. All the abuse from the last 16 years bubbled to the surface as I sat eyes closed waiting for the haymaker that never came. I finally mustered the courage to peer through my fingers and watched Brian Gionta bat the 5th goal home to put the Pens away, I finally believed.
Welcome back irrationality. Welcome back vulnerability. Wherever this ride takes me, one thing is for sure, I am now all in.