It's April 5 in Montreal, home game for the Canadiens in the final stretch to the playoffs. The Detroit Red Wings are in town, and it's already an emotion-filled night with all the Canadian Olympic medallists (aside from the hockey teams, all of the golds are from Quebec natives) present to get a cheer from the crowd. Habs' prospect Tim Bozon and his father are also in attendance. As you know, Tim recently recovered from a frightening battle with meningitis. We see him in the crowd, earplugs in place - wise choice!
The puck drops, and Michael Bournival gets the only goal in the first period, and the Habs go to first intermission with the lead. Tim Bozon gets interviewed, telling us, "He's happy to still be on this earth." What an eloquent way to sum up the life-threatening ordeal he and his family have been through. His dad Philippe tells us he's made a lot of progress, though "his brain plays tricks on him sometimes" and he suffers migraines. His family believes in him but try to keep him grounded, as he can't wait to play but he still has a long way to go.
In the dressing room, Ryan White asks Max Pacioretty if he saw, "Tim Bozon, eh?" and it's clear they both realize at that moment, even in the intermission of a game, kind of how surviving a fight like that is a big deal, for a second more important than the game.
In the second, Pacioretty zigs and zags through Wings to score and make it 2-0. Captain Brian Gionta increases the lead with another goal, and Carey Price comes up huge with a great save to close the period.
In the third however, the Red Wings wake up and score 1-2-3 to tie the game. That old "CH character" though does not give up and the captain scores his second of the game to regain the lead, and Alex Galchenyuk puts in another for good measure, with Tomas Plekanec famously then squirting Galchenyuk in the face with his water bottle on the bench, twice, to a cuff and laugh from Galchenyuk. Later in the relieved and happy dressing room, we even get some dancing by both Price and Chucky, while the room congratulates Gionta on his two-goal game, "Aw, yeah, Gio!"
Last November, Brandon Prust and Galchenyuk (how many times will I say Galchenyuk) visited a hat designer in Buffalo, and have now received their personally designed hats. I have to mention here that Prust has quite the creative mind and comes up with cool ideas, although Galchenyuk teases him for not having much imagination. Prust then teases G-word that they should put both hats up for a vote, to see who's the better designer. "Who wants 27 on the back of their hat? Like ages four to 16, in the female category." Prust later shows off his hat to P.K. Subban and Daniel Briere, "You like that, boys?" P.K. responds with, "What the hell is that?" He looks more closely at the inside, and closes his eyes and literally facepalms, "Oh, my god. Danny, you've missed the best part of the hat!" and laughs at the hat's inscription, "In Prust, we trust! Wow!" as Prust fist pumps, hell yeah. P.K. then shakes his head as he leaves the room, repeating, "In Prust, weeee trust."
Next up for the Habs, it's the Stanley Cup champ Chicago Blackhawks. The team and coaches are on the plane, and assistant coach Gerard Gallant describes how the flight is a time for the coaches to keep working, reviewing game tape on their laptops, and their work is never done. Assistant coach Clement Jodoin goes on to tell us that the three coaches prepare meetings for every game, and give their best information to Michel Therrien. As Jean-Jacques Daigneault speaks, I notice that both he and goalie coach formerly of the Hawks Stephane Waite are wearing matching purple shirts.
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Two-time Cup winner Waite is happy to be back in Chicago, and talks about his good fortune at being able to work for both the Hawks and Habs, two great historic franchises. He humbly says he could have ended up "anywhere", but come on. This is a guy who will have his pick of jobs if he ever leaves the Habs, but please no.
It's game time, and defenseman Josh Gorges is suited back up with the boys after being out with a broken hand for 15 games. Our backup goaltender Peter Budaj is in nets, and with no room on the bench for the backup-to-the-backup, Dustin Tokarski watches the game from the dressing room with a bag of popcorn the size of which makes my kids drool.
No sooner does the game begin, than Galchenyuk is hurt on a body check and has to leave the game. There is quick regrouping on the bench to account for his unexpected exit. The first period garners no goal from either side.
In the second, both goalies continue to shine and it ends with still a 0-0 score. At intermission - he's baaaaack - Gorges sends the boys back out to the ice with a, "Here we go, boys, here we go!"
In the third we finally get a goal, with Dale Weise breaking the ice. Chicago quickly rebounds and now it's 1-1, as Michel Therrien gazes heavenward. Defenseman Francis Bouillon gets a go-ahead goal however, and with less than a minute to go, Chicago pulls their netminder and ties the game. The Habs lose in overtime, but they go back home with a valuable point.
Bournival has a nice surprise waiting for him in Brossard - the puck from his first-ever NHL goal, mounted onto a nice trophy. Canadiens' communications coordinator François Marchand approaches the dining room where Bournival is sitting with Price and Gallagher, and he stands up to receive the puck. Marchand gives him a nice little speech, that ends with Price photo-bombing the touching moment.
Next, we're at the Habs Hall of Fame in the Bell Centre, where a Maurice Richard statue has been unveiled. My besties Geoff Molson and Guy Lafleur are in attendance along with Rejean Houle whom I've never met nor has tweeted me ... yet. The statue is remarkable, and beautifully captures the famous Richard eyes of the tiger. It is truly a masterpiece, having been created with the close supervision of the Richard family. This was a labour of love, with each detail, down to each individual hair on his head, painstakingly applied. Molson then perfectly says that, "The impact Maurice had on the Canadiens, on the sport of hockey and Quebec society cannot be overstated. He was one of the most beloved players to ever wear the CH, and his legend is firmly established in the history of our city, our province and our country."
April 10, and it's the second-last game of the regular season against the Islanders. Clement Jodoin tells the boys in the video room to expect a hard game - even though the Isles are a young team, they're a part of the best league in the world. Respect them, but play hard. Therrien goes on to tell them they've attained their first goal of making the playoffs, now they're in a position to secure home ice.
Game time. Jodoin is perched high above the ice in the press box, and confers with Gallant on the bench via an earpiece. The Islanders have shown up to spoil the Habs' fun, but Price makes a difficult save. The period ends in a 0-0 tie.
At intermission, an unhappy Therrien tells the room he just wants to know what's going on. He stands there, hands on his hips, happy red tie and pocket square not succeeding in camouflaging his quiet anger. He stares around the room and gets no answer. He marches out in silence, with Rene Bourque and David Desharnais looking after him with looks on their faces that say, "Um ... you're really leaving?" Captain Brian Gionta then tells the room that they know what to do, and get back to their game and not panic.
In the second, Price makes a save and Jodoin remarks that once again, he was all alone. The Islanders then get the opening goal on a laser so quick that it had to be reviewed. Before the end of the second, they score again and the Habs are now down 2-0.
At intermission in the room, the camera shot shows Carey Price from the neck down, leaving the room then furiously grabbing his stick go take not one but two whacks at the bench, then departing. Gallant comes in to calmly tell them that the game is far from over ... unless they keep playing the same way.
In the third, the Habs take shot after shot but are denied each time. Shut out, at home, by the ISLANDERS.
It's April 12. My birthday! Last game of the regular season for the Habs at home against original six New York Rangers. Mike Blunden has been called up to play, and laughingly walks in the dressing room to finger-snaps by Ryan White and pal Dale Weise.
Game time and Price is at the top of his game. Francis Bouillon gets into a fight after Desharnais is tripped. The period ends in a 0-0 tie, again. In the second, both goalies continue to be perfect, Price with the assistance of one of his posts - Price later laughs about it in the dressing room.
Third - 0-0. In overtime, Brian Gionta gets tripped on a breakaway, and is granted a penalty shot. It's overtime, the last game of the season, in a goalless game, and the captain begins his skate. And he scores, ending the season on a spectacular note.
2013-2014 season is now in the record books. There were stumbles and gaffes and games to dismiss; there were nights to never remember, and ill-timed injuries to heal and forget. And yet, through honest labour and plain determination, Montreal carved itself a place among the best teams in the conference. Theirs is a brand that is easy to grasp, at team of players who never quit, never go back. Just ask the Ottawa Senators, who found out to their own peril on a wayward Saturday night in March. After 82 games that earned Montreal the right to take part in the annual spring pursuit for the Stanley Cup, the greater quest begins. From failing hands, to take up the torch as 24 great Canadiens team have done in the past, and to hold it high.