After the 2020 NHL Playoffs, an idea was born: this Montreal Canadiens team might be able to win. Then, after the re-dividing of the divisions, it became apparent: this team could win. That’s when the idea was cemented. The time to rebuild is over. The time to be built is now.
But, as T.S. Elliot said in The hollow men, “Between the conception and creation, between the emotion and the response, falls the shadow.” The Habs have shown that they are still between the conception and the creation. Last night was the shadow.
This isn’t meant to be gloomy, but rather optimistic. As Brendan Gallagher said, “We have a lot of young guys that are going to be a key part of this team going forward. As painful as this is right now, maybe this is the journey we needed.”
Gallagher brings up two key points here. The first being that the core is young. After the playoffs in the bubble last year Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi looked ready for the next step. So Marc Bergevin started building around them. He signed Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson, and re-signed Gallagher and Jeff Petry. Of course, barring the unexpected, Carey Price and Shea Weber are here for a while, too.
The next point Gallagher made is that losing teaches you more than winning. In this Tampa Bay series the team just wasn’t good enough. Looking back at the other rounds the Habs’ expected-goals-for percentage in all situations were 41.0% against the Maple Leafs, 63.7% against the Jets and 53.6% against the Golden Knights.
In the final against Tampa Bay, they only had 42.5% of the expected goals. There wasn’t a single game in the series that Montreal led in expected goals. Conversely, Montreal won the Toronto series because they had stretches of dominance that didn’t necessarily shake out in the overall numbers.
At least for the first three rounds (barring the opening week of the first one), this run was for real. The Habs were not relying only on luck and extrodinairy goaltending. Montreal proved, one way or another, that this year they were better than every team in the NHL, except one.
So, just like T.S. Elliot alludes to there being more past the shadow, there is more past last night’s defeat. No longer is Montreal the joke of the NHL, the forgotten franchise in a loaded Atlantic Division. The Habs now have much more to hang their hats on.
So enjoy the whimper, there will be many more over the years, but there will be at least one laugh that will start in the middle of spring and won’t end until the fall.