Watching the 2010 NHL playoffs has been an enjoyable experience for all Canadiens fan. Watching the Habs continually defy the logic pushed forth by experts and fans (myself included) I have watched with interest as I observe how the media decides to cover events as a novel based on fiction and not as a historical document based on facets of reality. I touched on this in my last article in regards to the deifying of Jaroslav Halak and continue to take interest in the observations based on lack of research.
When the Canadiens were en route to upsetting the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in the first round, some Montreal media began to draw comparisons between Halak's performances and legendary playoff performances of Habs greats like Patrick Roy or Ken Dryden. That may be a bit hyperbolic, since Halak has appeared in just 11 playoff games in his NHL career, but there are suddenly some similarities to the Habs' Cup-winning teams from 1986 and 1993. During those championship runs, the Habs were often the underdogs. They were often outshot and outplayed. Yet with Roy turning in dominant performances almost every night, the Canadiens seemed to possess a quiet calm that allowed them to simply seize whatever moments were presented them and not worry about the rest. (ESPN)
Take the quote above by Scott Burnside as an example (this is not a shot at Burnside, as the media has been bringing up the names of Dryden and Roy since game 6 of round one).
During those championship runs, the Habs were often the underdogs. They were outshot and outplayed. This is hyperbole at it's finest. It is simply false.
Comparison 1 - Ken Dryden 1971
Ask everybody what they remember about 1971 and you will hear tales of Dryden standing on his head and stealing the 1971 Stanley Cup. You will hear about how the Canadiens were a team that were severely overmatched and were placed on the back of an unknown kid named Ken Dryden who stole a Stanley Cup
How accurate is this assertion?
Look at the roster of the 1971 Montreal Canadiens. Without counting Dryden, the Canadiens roster contains 8 Hall of Famers. The 1970 Canadiens missed the playoffs, but the 1969 edition was team that had a core of a team that won 4 championships in 5 seasons. The 1971 Canadiens had 12 players left over from the 1969 Stanley Cup championship team. Does this sound like a team that would leave you shocked if they won the title?
Look at the 1971 Standings. This longshot team finished 4th in a 14 team league. There is no doubt that the 1971 Canadiens were a huge underdog against the powerful Bruins. The Bruins finished 24 points and 109 goals ahead of the Canadiens and had dominated them in the regular season going 5 and 1 and outscoring the Habs 29-14.
This is where the legend was born. I did not witness the series. I have seen the highlights of Dryden making huge saves and by all accounts he was spectacular. That being said, the Canadiens scored 28 goals over 7 games, they overcame a 5-1 deficit in Game 2 to win 7-5 and gave up 26 goals over 7 games. I have no doubt that he made a difference in the series, but nobody ever mentions Frank Mahovlich's 7 goals and 6 assists in the same series. If you remove the Big M from the series, is anybody convinced that the Canadiens win that series? So let's come to the conclusion that he didn't single handidly win the series as history would have us believe.
The Canadiens entered the second round facing the Minnesota North Stars, hardly a favourite. They then entered the Stanley Cup Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhaws had a 10 point advantage against the Canadiens entering the Finals, but the season series was a 3-3 split with the Canadiens outscoring the Hawks 20-17. Over 7 games the shot totals favoured the Hawks 227-209.
Is a team with 9 Hall of Famers, 12 returning members of a Stanley Cup champion who finished 4th overall and played one series in which they were a heavy underdog really a comparable for the 2010 Montreal Canadiens? If the Detroit Red Wings win the Stanley Cup this season would it be considered a monumental upset?
Comparison to 2010. FAIL.
Comparison 2 - Patrick Roy 1986
Once again, a miracle tale of an overmatched team that was an underdog and was outshot and outplayed. The Canadiens finished 7th overall in 1986. They were 3rd in the league in goal differential and had the 4th ranked defense in the NHL. Look at the roster of the 1986 Montreal Canadiens. They had 4 Hall of Famers and were stacked with rookies who were not regarded as well in 1986 as they are today. The core of this roster would post a 115 point season 3 seasons later.
Looking at their path to the 1986 Stanley Cup they faced ONE TEAM that finished ahead of them in the NHL Standings (Calgary Flames who had 89 points, 2 points ahead of the Canadiens). The Bruins (8), Whalers (11) and NY Rangers (14) all opened their respective series in the Montreal Forum. Were they outshot on a regular basis? The Canadiens were outshot 5 times in 20 games, where does this misconception arise from? Likely Game 3 against the NY Rangers when Roy's legend began. In that game the Rangers outshot the Habs 47-29 with an 11-3 advantage in OT alone. The fact is, in that game the Rangers season was on the line and the Canadiens victory put them up 3-0 in the series.
Comparison to 2010. FAIL.
Comparison 3 - Patrick Roy 1993
Another miracle run by the immortal Patrick Roy. As much as I love to hear this tale told on a yearly basis, I witnessed the run and the Canadiens entered one series as an underdog and were not overmatched in any of them. How does a team that finished the season with 102 points and finished 6th overall get labeled as a fluke? The roster at the time was somehow considered average, but had emerging players like John Leclair, Eric Desjardins and Mathieu Schneider to compliment players like Kirk Muller, Guy Carbonneau, Vincent Damphousse, Patrick Roy and Brian Bellows.
The only series in which the Canadiens entered as an underdog was their first round series against the Nordiques (5) who they trailed by 1 point. The rest of their run saw them face the Sabres (14), NY Islanders (13) and the LA Kings (11). During the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals they outshot the Kings in 3 of the 5 games and throughout the Finals only trailed for 49 of 315 minutes. Yet similar to 1986 when the media had already awarded the Oilers the Cup, 1993 saw everybody assume the Penguins would win their third straight title and somehow this discredits the accomplishments of 1993. Patrick Roy was full credit for his Conn Smythe trophy because he was their best player, but it was no miracle title.
I have always found it interesting how the media portrayed the 1993 Toronto Maple Leafs effort as heroic and stoic and the Habs as a fluke and their success was hinged on having a great goaltender, not a great team. Sound familiar? In reality the Leafs had 3 points less than the Habs in 1993 and faced the exact same path to the Finals. The Leafs faced the Wings with 103 pts (Nordiques 104), St. Louis Blues 85 pts (Sabres 86) and the Kings with 88 pts (NY Islanders 87).
Comparison to 2010. FAIL.
There is one really obvious comparison that everybody seems to be ignoring. It doesn't register as high on the hyperbolic meter but offers up a much better comparison and it occured in more recent memory. My guess is that conjuring up images of Jose Theodore is not good for ratings and does not offer up as compelling a story as trying to thrust Halak into the immortals of the Canadiens crease. Placing Halak as the lone gunman also simplifies life for the scribe who called for Washington in 3. It allows for the pundit to essentially claim he was correct, but his genius was undermined by 1 player who did something extraordinary.
None of 1971, 1986 or 1993 offer up an 8 seed defeating a number 1. None of those seasons represent a severely overmatched team that scraped into the playoffs and had zero expectations in Montreal.
The storyline of the 2010 Montreal Canadiens was a team in transition who lost their best player for half the season and behind strong goaltending managed to squeak into the playoffs. In 2002 the Canadiens were a team in transistion who lost Saku Koivu early in the season and were able to squeak into the playoffs in the final week.
The 2002 Canadiens entered the playoffs as a heavy underdog against the number one seeded Boston Bruins. The 2002 Canadiens rode the goaltending of a 25 year old goaltender and finished with 87 points, the 2010 Canadiens rode the goaltending of a 24 year old goaltender and finished with 88 points
Look at the first round results. In the Canadiens victories in 2002 they were outshot on average by 36 - 20 for a -16 difference, in 2010 the margin was 45 - 26 for a difference of -19. Look at the second round series against the Carolina Hurricanes, once again the shot difference in their two victories was 40 -18.
Now another interesting thing is looking at the shot totals in their 2002 losses. Over the 2 rounds in their 6 losses the Canadiens were outshot 35 - 28 for a difference of -7. In 2010 that number is 33 - 30 for a difference of -3. Once again the numbers indicate that shots are not indicative of the final results.
With the results already at our fingertips it is obvious why this is not the picture that is being painted by the media. It does not inspire a fanbase to look forward to the inevitable doom of being outscored 19-3 over the final 7 periods, it is better to evoke the imagery of the miracle runs that weren't really miracles at all.
Comparison to 2010. PASS.
This is the fourth time in the past 12 seasons in which the Canadiens pulled off a monumental first round upset and every time has seen them dispatched fairly easily in the second round. In those three second round matchups, the Habs have managed to win only 2 games. The question for me then straddles the line of hope and rationality.
Unfortunately for me, the left side of my brain always seems to overpower the right side of my brain. I always look to history to lead the way. In order for me to believe that the Canadiens rope-a-dope can succeed for more than one round, I need to place their exploits into a historical context that can convince me of this possibility. Is there a an 8th seeded Stanley Cup run in which a team was consistently outshot, yet overcame this to win the Stanley Cup?
Example number one brought up the 1982 Vancouver Canucks, but they were destroyed in 4 straight in the Stanley Cup Finals. They were eliminated from consideration.
The 1991-92 Minnesota North Stars went on a miracle run where they knocked off the number one seeded Blackhawks, the number two seeded St. Louis Blues, the defending Stanley Cup champion Oilers before being blown out by the Pittsburgh Penguins 8-0 in Game 6. Eliminated.
The 1999 Buffalo Sabres were a candidate until I looked at their 2nd a 3rd round matchups in which they outshot their opposition. Eliminated.
The 2003 Anaheim Ducks went on a legendary run with JS Giguere, but even that run took place in the dead puck era where hooking, holding and obstruction were at their peak and did not involve Giguere seeing more than 29 shots per game. Eliminated.
The 2004 Flames run is a run that grabbed my attention, but it was a 6th seed facing a 3 seed and the point differential on the season was only 7 points between them and their first round opponent, the Vancouver Canucks. The first round series also didn't represent a disproportionate amount of shots fired at the Calgary goal in their 7 game victory. They actually completed the first round with a + 2 in shot differential. They too were eliminated.
All ultimately fell short of my desired goal.
My last ditch effort brought me to the 2006 Edmonton Oilers.
The Oilers were an 8 seed that knocked off the heavily favoured Detroit Red Wings. They overcame a 29 point differential and the second rated offense in the NHL. In the first round of the playoffs, the Oilers were outshot 40 - 26 for a differential of -14. In the second round of the playoffs against the Sharks through 2 games the Oilers trailed 2 games to nothing and had been outshot 68-41, a worse differential than the Canadiens 63-52 through 2 games against the Penguins.
From this point forward the Oilers outshot the Sharks 136 - 107. They then defeated the Ducks even though they were outshot in every game and then dominated the shot clock against the Canes in the Stanley Cup Final outshooting them 200 - 164. Now the Oilers eventually lost in Game 7, but they did lose Roloson in Game 1. Considering the drop off from Roloson's .927 SV% to Conklin/Markkanen's .900 SV% it is not a stretch to believe the Oilers could have won the Cup had he not missed 6 of the 7 games.
Since it is the only comparable that legitimately allows me to hold on to my Stanley Cup pipedream, I will allow my right brain to overpower the left for now.
Even though the rope-a-dope the Canadiens are using is an actual strategy, it is one frought with peril. Anybody who believes in Corsi numbers understands that this is likely a strategy that will ultimately fail. Passes that are just missing outreached sticks, rebounds that are being scooped up by defensemen and Mike Cammalleri maintaining a 26% shooting percentage are longshots at best, but until these things ultimately fail I maintain some semblance of hope.
It just doesn't revolve around disingenuous creative storytelling brought forth by the mainstream media to protect their own reputation and increase viewership and web hits.