Something special is happening with the Montreal Canadiens right now.
They went into their first-round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs as the heaviest of underdogs. No mainstream analysts were predicting them to win — even Habs beat reporters resigned themselves to choosing the Leafs as their favourite to move on to the North Division final.
The Habs didn’t care.
They went down 3-1 in the series, and just when it looked like those analyst predictions would come to fruition, they mounted an epic comeback featuring two consecutive overtime wins. They refused to quit. They came together and beat a team that many of those aforementioned analysts considered to be Stanley Cup contenders.
Most analysts also predicted that the Jets would do what the Leafs could not, and send the Tricolore to the golf course. The predictions were almost as lopsided as they were in the previous round — nearly every analyst predicting a Jets win and varying mostly on how many games it would take.
The Habs, once again, did not care.
This time they went out and steamrolled Winnipeg in four games. They didn’t trail once in the entire series. In fact, they haven’t trailed since the end of game four against the Leafs that put them down 3-1 in the previous round. It’s the second longest streak of not trailing in NHL playoff history.
Despite this streak, it won’t be the least bit surprising when zero mainstream analysts pick them to beat the winner of the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche. These are two powerhouse teams, and they’ll be expected to run through the Tricolore faster than those same analysts predicted the last two teams would do it.
The Habs, as they did the last two times, should not care about those predictions.
You may have noticed something they’re doing at the Bell Centre following the team’s wins. After Diane Bibaud plays the age-old tune to “Les Canadiens sont là!” on the organ, they play the 1987 hit “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Starship. Regardless of your opinion of the song itself, it has significance to this team dating back to the unlikely 1993 Stanley Cup champions.
At the time, head coach Jacques Demers knew his team was the underdog heading into the playoffs. He wanted something to bring the team together before their games, and he was inspired after hearing the song on the radio one day. He brought his idea to the team, that they would play that song every game in the room before taking the ice.
They would build it together. Nothing was going to stop them. The entire team bought into his idea, and his plan for the playoffs. The rest is history.
Now, the 2020-21 Canadiens are trying to turn back the clock to 1993. They’re winning games in overtime, getting world class goaltending, and have forced the hockey world to take notice despite still not being considered as legitimate contenders. They’re playing that same song that Jacques Demers brought into the room via cassette tape in the Forum.
This time it’s Dominique Ducharme’s plan, and they’ve clearly bought in as a group. I don’t know if he’s blasting Starship in the room before each game, but they’re playing like they truly believe nothing will stop them.
Outside of 1993, the Canadiens have only made it this far in the playoffs on two other occasions in my lifetime, in 2010 and 2014. The common denominator for all four rosters is stellar goaltending, but I’d argue that this roster is better overall on paper than the two most recent ventures. I think they’re closer to that 1993 team, and that’s why I believed in them even when they weren’t giving much reason to do so.
I wrote back in April that I felt the Canadiens could beat the Leafs in a playoff series. I received plenty of comments and emails telling me I was crazy — a delusional Habs fan hoping for the impossible. I saw a roster that I felt was capable of more than their regular season indicated.
I felt vindicated when they actually did it. Moreover, after watching that comeback followed up by a trouncing of the Jets, I believe in this team even more than I did in April. More importantly, they clearly believe in themselves.
I think they could beat the Golden Knights. I think they could beat the Avalanche. It won’t be easy either way, but if they haven’t managed to get you believing in their abilities by now, they never will. And if they manage to get through whichever of those western powerhouses they face, you’re damn right I believe they could win it all.
I don’t think I’ll be nearly as alone in these beliefs as I was in April. The team has shown enough in these playoffs that I think they’ve made believers of many more than just myself. They can call us all crazy together as we watch this team try to accomplish the impossible. To borrow some lyrics from that Starship song; “Let ‘em say we’re crazy, I don’t care about that.”
And neither do these Montreal Canadiens.