Let’s face it. Since the Montreal Canadiens lost Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2021, there haven’t been many – if any – games that felt important. There have been some fun moments in some otherwise awful seasons, but nothing that made you sit up and take notice.
By the same token, Saturday night games have not had that aura around them in the last few years. Some of that is because there are fewer divisional games, and those that happen can happen on any given Tuesday or Thursday. Some of that is because there hasn’t been a reason to treat any regular season game any differently. Some of that is because Hockey Night in Canada itself doesn’t have the same flair it once did.
Finally, games against the Boston Bruins have not stuck out, either. Part of that was last year’s first matchup was in January when the Canadiens were a shell of even the team that started the season. Part of that is because the games have not been very competitive. There’s only so much juice a rivalry can have when one team has lost 10 straight games. To put it in perspective, the last time Montreal beat Boston before Saturday, Victor Mete had two goals in a 5-4 win on November 5, 2019. Dating back to December of 2016, Montreal has won only three of the last 21 games against Boston before Saturday night.
It didn’t take a long time for this game to feel almost nostalgic. From Johnathan Kovacevic’s hip check on Brad Marchand at the blue line to Brendan Gallagher being, well, Brendan Gallagher at his best, it was one of those games that had the capital-E Energy that makes Canadiens games just feel different.
You could tell this meant something to the players. Gallagher’s celebration after he scored was playoffesque, as was his regular net front presence. It was almost like Gallagher, who hasn’t played a playoff game in years, looked at the calendar, saw a Saturday night game against the Bruins and said ‘well, close enough’.
It wasn’t only Gallagher. The Canadiens played a great game. As for Boston, they didn’t play at their best. This game meant a lot more to Montreal than it did to Boston. This isn’t a game that indicates that it’s time to plan the parade, or even one that makes you want to put down a deposit on playoff tickets. What it was, however, was a game that shows you what this team can be, and what it will be. When games like this happen, you don’t even need to squint nor do you need rose-coloured glasses to see it.
The Canadiens are still a young team, they are still developing, and there’s a decent chance that they follow up Saturday’s high with another low against Vancouver on Sunday, much like they followed up a great game in Vegas with several poor performances. The difference between an average team and a good team and a great team is consistency, and the Canadiens lack that.
There’s the saying ‘never too high, never too low’ that has become a theme around the Canadiens organization, going back to the Laval Rocket playoff run from two years ago. That usually means not to overreact to moments, but when the Bell Centre sounds and feels like it did on Saturday, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it while it’s happening.
Regardless of how fleeting a feeling is, there’s something special about just having the opportunity to remember what it felt like.