Yesterday, after the longest, most frustrating losing streak for the Canadiens in recent years, the Habs broke the streak with an ugly, hard-fought, character win against a divisional opponent. A team that eliminated them from the playoffs in May, and was creeping up the standings after winning seven of 11 games in the month of December.
I could write a whole book about this, and though I have a propensity to talk too much, this will be brief ... ish.
Everyone knows that Carey Price hasn't been around in ... I can hardly remember what he looks like. Everyone knows that Brendan Gallagher, our little spark plug with a heart the size of Montreal, has been out all month. After winning nine straight games to start the season, and scoring 11 thousand goals, the Habs started losing. And losing. And losing. And losing. And not scoring. And despite playing their hearts out, the losses continued to mount. The captain, Max Pacioretty himself, was so frustrated that he dropped an expletive to the press after a particularly emotional loss.
And? Habs fans reacted in an increasingly predictable fashion. I said at the beginning of the season that Alexander Semin brought out the absolute worst in Habs fans. I was wrong. The losing streak brought out the absolute worst in Habs fans. And that's saying something, since the winning record last year also brought out the absolute worst in Habs fans. Which is amazing in itself.
Habs fans took to Twitter and called in to radio shows to strip the Captain of his letter, fire the coach, trade everybody, and rail on the general manager, who had done nothing, nothing, in his time at the helm of the Canadiens' leaky ship. It was also said that the team had lost confidence in their coach, and his system, and were giving up in an effort to have him fired. A long, long overdue dismissal, at that.
Here's what Marc Bergevin did: nothing. Well, not nothing, he did make a trade mere moments after the Christmas trade freeze thawed. Gone was Zack Kassian, and in came Ben Scrivens, a goalie with a good attitude who had recently experienced some bad luck, but more importantly has a lot of NHL experience, to be coached by one of the best goalie coaches in the world. That is definitely something he did.
But it's what he didn't do that was more admirable.
He didn't lose his cool. He didn't fire anybody.
Moreover, he did something very special. He went into a beleaguered, tired, nervous dressing room and told his players that they are a family. He told them nothing was changing and that he, the players and the coaches were going to get through this as a group.
He then made a rare appearance to the press. And he told them that he had that meeting, and expressed that when times are "smooth," he's close to his coaches. And when times are difficult - they're even closer.
And the Montreal Canadiens, whether that meeting was a turning point or not, sure made it look like it was. They came out onto the ice on fire. And though their chances weren't finding the back of the net, they did not give up. And they got that elusive first period goal. That elusive lead. Tomas Plekanec, a veteran whose name had been dragged through the mud during the losing streak, got his first goal since November 7. And yes he was pushed, but he fell onto the ice and let his teammates mug him for a bit before getting up, trying to hide his smile like the cool cat he's supposed to be. Though Tampa scored back early in the second, Alex Galchenyuk stepped in to give his team the lead once more.
And then. Tampa got two goals in quick succession when Montreal still held the lead with seven minutes left in the game. Not one - two. All of a sudden Tampa, who stood to gain a lot by winning this game, could have taken the wind out of the Canadiens sails, and the hopes of finally beating Tampa in Tampa, finally beating anyone really, could have been flattened like a pancake.
And then Dale Weise got the Dale-Weiseiest goal ever, in that no one even realized there had even been a goal. But Dale Weise. I cannot count the number of times I have thrown myself to the proverbial ground in the moments Weise provides us with huge goals.
Because no one can deny that some December 28 game was not likely the most important game of the season so far for the Habs. After losing "10 of 11!" - because that sounds so much worse than six straight - and living in an age of social media where it's impossible to ignore fan and media negativity, and wondering: "Would he do that? Would he trade me? Is he actually firing the coach? Am I safe? Will I ever score again?" To tie that game, in its dying minutes, after holding on to the lead for so long was something for the storybooks. Not to be too sappy.
The game went to overtime, the game went to a shootout. Brian Flynn, who even knew that he would become our new shootout specialist? And Max Pacioretty, easily the most frustrated forward on the team, easily the man who put most of the responsibility for the scoring drought and losing streak on his shoulders, stepped out onto the ice. What was this? Michel Therrien - what?
And he scored. He scored. He won the game. And the unabashed look of joy on his face when the bench came to mob him is the moment you live for, as a fan.
It wasn't pretty. But they didn't give up. And they scored three goals. And won.
I don't pretend to have any knowledge of what goes on behind closed doors, and am only going by what Marc Bergevin said yesterday. And I imagine myself in the players shoes, hearing the words that everyone in this room is going to get through this together, and he believes in us, in the group, despite all the scary scenarios being floated, despite not putting together a win in basically a month, would have burst my heart-size meter.
Fans: that win last night came as a result of Marc Bergevin not taking a single one of our suggestions. It also came from Michel Therrien not taking our suggestions. The coach, after the game, laughed about the "criticism" (biggest understatement ever) that he would have received for his decisions in the shootout.
Didn't stop him from making them. And? They worked!
In a healthy organization, like in a family, you go through good times together, but more importantly, you go through bad times together. And like Therrien repeatedly said throughout the streak, it makes you stronger.
For Bergevin, like the patriarch, to first hold that meeting, then articulate what happened in that meeting for all of our ears, solidified that group. It showed them that the negativity outside the room doesn't matter - the only thing that matters is what goes on within the group. And consequently, that's basically the message Bergevin gave to the media.
And the Habs won.
And after a long, long, long time, there was music in the dressing room once again.