Before I start, I want to begin with an anecdote.
The year is 2011, and the Montreal Canadiens are tied 3-3 against the Boston Bruins in game seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Time is ticking down in OT, when P.K. Subban fails to clear the puck. It makes its way to the blue line, where Nathan Horton steps into an absolute rocket. He blasts it by Carey Price, the Bruins win 4-3, and they are on their way to the second round.
That was my first dance with playoff heartbreak.
I was nine.
Fast forward ten years, and I was prepared to have my heart broken again, but not in the way that I thought. Montreal was fourth in the North Division, set to face the Toronto Maple Leafs, and I thought for sure that it was going to be a rough ride. Montreal was absolutely able to play against Toronto in the regular season, but for some reason they couldn’t manage to develop any sort of consistent play.
During game one though, with Josh Anderson setting the tone with the opening goal of the series, I could tell that this year was going to be different. For too long, the team had been criticized, jostled by the media, inconsistent, and at times downright awful. I had hoped that something would spark them to achieve greatness this year. I, like all of you, was in for something really, really special.
The funny thing is, I wasn’t around for the 2010 run. All I had left were the highlight videos, the old EOTP articles, and the spoken-word histories from my dad. The way it was talked about—that being the run itself, combined with the heroics of Mike Cammalleri—was spoken with such reverence, it was as though it was some relic of a bygone era, and it was in some respect. I felt as though I was there for the whole run, when in reality, I was an eight year old kid who wasn’t sure if he even liked hockey.
The last great run I witnessed was in 2014. 2011 was my first experience watching my favorite team fail to advance; 2012 is something we don’t talk about; 2013 gave us a strong resurgence; 2015 was, for some inexplicable reason, something I have trouble remembering; and, for the most part, 2016 to 2018 is lost in the depths of my unconscious. 2019 gave me some more hope, but I remember holding my head in my hands at a table in Crabby Joe’s as Montreal lost 6-2 to Columbus in a critical game, missing the playoffs by two points.
This year had to be different, right?
The bubble was an incredible showing, I think we all know that. It gave us glimpses of the future, as well as a concrete assurance of what the present veteran presence was able to provide. Weber, Price, Gallagher, Petry, Danault, Suzuki, Lehkonen, Armia, and Kotkaniemi (among others!)—now joined by Perry, Edmundson, Toffoli, Anderson, Caufield, Staal, and Allen—looked poised to achieve greatness.
I won’t cut corners here and say the season went well, because we all know it had its "Dang-Its!".
The playoffs, though…the playoffs were something else. After winning game five against Toronto, I felt my stomach in knots. Could this be real? I nearly ruined my throat standing and screaming at the T.V. when Kotkaniemi won game six. This is real? This is real.
Game seven was all Montreal, and I will now cherish the memory of standing in front of the television, screaming "F--- YOU!" and flipping off Matthews (not very sportsmanlike, yes, but you have to understand…this was an incredible feat).
Suddenly, the Jets were toast, Vegas was pushed to game six, and when Lehkonen scored, I teared up. The 2010 magic—something I had never actually experienced—felt as close as ever. The seismic curse that had befallen this team in 2014 seemed to evaporate. The poise, patience, hard work, dedication, and positivity that this 2021 team showed seemed to congeal into one unified entity that was capable of doing some serious damage.
This is all real.
Facing Tampa, the challenge was certainly immense, and now we sit on the day after hockey has ended, reflecting.
It was all still real, though.
There is a lot to be grateful for from this run. For one thing, the team managed to give us some of the best hockey in the last 28 years…in a global pandemic, no less.
One of the most amazing things I have experienced is feeling so close to other fans yet being forced to stay so far apart (unless of course you were in front of the Bell Centre). This run in 2021 gave me hope and positivity during a time in our history where the sun didn’t look like it would shine again.
So, in the end, here we are. We say goodnight and go home, but make sure not to sleep on Les Canadiens. The future is bright, the kids are alright, and you can bet that we’ll put up a fight.
Thanks a lot, Habs fans—from me to you.