Last season David Desharnais was nearly invisible in the playoffs, held without a shot in the first few games, and finishing the five game series with one assists, and three shots. He was a non-factor, looked overwhelmed, and faced a summer's worth of criticism for it.
Ottawa's large defensive core was given as the reason why Desharnais was so unsuccessful, yet this season Desharnais has faced down a Tampa Bay Lightning defensive unit whose smallest member is 6'3", and he's a completely different player.
The first game of the series was arguably the greatest game of Desharnais' entire career, setting up a goal for Thomas Vanek, and hitting the net a whopping six times. In game two, it was Desharnais who opened the scoring on a brilliant tip off of a P.K. Subban slap pass, with Desharnais once again playing an excellent, 200 foot game.
Where did this come from? Desharnais has had an excellent offensive season after a 20 game cold streak had the mayor of Montreal calling for him to be sent to Hamilton, but at no point as he ever been a complete player, let alone outmuscling guys twice the size of him. This is something new.
Last season in the post mortem I said that Desharnais' story of making the NHL through adversity is a great one, but it would be a better story somewhere else. If this is how Desharnais responds to a tough season, once again silencing critics, I will take it back.
Redemption a common theme through two games
Desharnais isn't the only Canadiens player seeing their efforts through tough times rewarded. A season from hell for Lars Eller has seemingly reversed it's course with a clean slate in the playoffs. He has been trending upwards since the Olympics, but finally Eller is getting rewarded. Perhaps the Habs' best player in game one, Eller contributed again in game two, setting up the second goal of the game from Rene Bourque while playing an excellent shutdown role.
Bourque is another player seeing redemption early. It's tough to know how long it will last, but Bourque is playing like he's supposed to play. Hard nosed and with speed, Bourque scored the goal of the playoffs in game two, taking a pass from Thomas Vanek and splitting the Tampa Bay defense with speed and physicality, avoiding a poke check by Anders Lindback, and chipping the puck into the goal.
When Lindback was pulled after Brendan Gallagher scored a bit of a weak one to make it 3-0, the feeling was that the Canadiens needed to get one past Gudlevskis early in order to ensure the young goalie didn't get hot, and once again it was Bourque to the rescue.
The biggest redemption story of these playoffs so far though, is Michel Therrien.
Outcoached significantly for much of the 2013-14 regular season, and especially by Jon Cooper in the season series against the Lightning, Therrien regrouped and formed a game plan that has been absurdly effective. The team has gone back to the aggressive two-man forecheck of last season, with an extremely aggressive neutral zone trap that at times sees all five Canadiens skaters in the neutral zone stepping into lanes and stick checking the quick Tampa forwards.
In game one, this led to a fantastic possession game but a few too many odd man rushes against on missed checks, so Therrien adjusted and tightened things up a bit, and cut scoring chances down significantly, in spite of the Lightning playing a much better game.
Tampa Bay came out on fire, putting five quality shots on Carey Price within the first 90 seconds of the game, but from then on, Montreal held the advantage at even strength, 33-30 in Fenwick attempts.
This has been a shockingly good start, with the roster playing to their potential, and they're still without a goal from Max Pacioretty, who has hit at least two posts in the two games so far. This team is treading very close to making people truly believe in them.