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If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going

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Through the first six games the Canadiens were learning lessons, and they put them all into practice in Game 7.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Toronto Maple Leafs at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The boys put on a show last night. I was sick to my stomach from the moment I woke up to well after the final buzzer!

Throughout the day I coped by doing what I’ve done on every winning game day so far. I mowed a Habs logo into my front lawn and got on my motorcycle to boo a Leafs fan.

The Montreal Canadiens lived up to everything they were capable of. As Winston Churchill said, “success is not final, failure not fatal, it’s the courage to continue that counts,” and boy did they continue. From their losses in Games 2, 3, and 4, they learned to adopt a more aggressive style. From the near losses in Games 5 and 6, they learned that no lead is safe and momentum is hard to get back once surrendered.

In all situations in Game 7, Montreal controlled just over 50% of the expected goals (xGF%). But what’s particularly interesting is that this whole game was played on the perimeter. There were only eight shot attempts from the high-danger area for both teams combined.

This is largely because the defense of both teams was playing much more aggressively. What Dominique Ducharme seems to have learned is that the best way to prevent high-danger chances is to pressure the puck before it’s in a high-danger area. Prior to last night, and less so Games 5 and 6, his defense had been extremely conservative.

Is it any coincidence that in the game where the team rolled out Jeff Petry-Brett Kulak and Erik Gustafsson/Shea Weber pairings that the team looked a lot more aggressive? Those weren’t the main pairings, but they were played in certain situations when their skills could be best utilized. This is in stark contrast from earlier in the series when everyone was getting almost even ice time.

Speaking of Shea Weber, I knew he was going to be someone to watch when, two minutes into the game, he pinched all the way to the hashmarks. From the get-go he was more engaged and aggressive.

At five-on-five, Weber played 23:45. Of that time, he spent over 10 minutes playing against the Auston Mathews line. Against that line he controlled over 60% of the shot attempts. Also, over the entire game, he had only 0.4 expected goals against and not a single high-danger shot attempt was made against him. That’s further proof of his aggression. A shot attempt would include blocked shots, and blocking high-danger shots is normally how Weber plays. But last night, no one was even able to get close enough to launch a shot.

After being down 3-1 in the series, I, like most fans, did not think a victory was possible. But that’s why I write and the pros play hockey. They went through hell, and kept going.