In 1993, Montreal won the Stanley Cup by defeating the LA Kings in a memorable 5 game series.
I remember that playoff year vividly. I knew we would because I had seen St. Patrick play against the Bruins, and I knew he was not going to let this team lose. I was so confident of our victory that I bet a NY Ranger fan and a Pittsburgh Penguin Fan a 6 pack of beer that we would win.
But ever since 1993, Montreal Canadiens fans have had very little to cheer about.
The team never reached the utter abyss of incompetence, but when Valerie Bure and Oleg Petrov are the best you have to offer for your young talent, and Rejean Houle and Mario Tremblay are destroying your franchise, things look bleak.
Actually things looked so bleak, that for this Montreal fan, watching hockey had become depressing. It was like looking at a tired over-the-hill athlete who once was great, wheezing and panting trying to compete. It was brutal and painful and sad.
And even when we won, it was still sad. In 2002 when Jose Theodore was standing on his pinky (not his head) to get an unbelievably crappy Montreal team into the playoffs, I remember watching the game and thinking the only person on that team that belongs in the NHL is the goalie, this Russian dude Markov and Koivu. Everyone else could be replaced by Detroit’s AHL team. And you knew that as long as Theodore could withstand the barrage we would win, and he won 6 games that we had no business winning that year.
And I remember that I was so happy that we made the playoffs in 2002, because we had missed the playoffs for three straight years! And I would run home like a lunatic to catch games and I knew that my team sucked, but maybe things had started to change… But once I saw that team, I knew, I knew that they still sucked. So I was happy, but it looked like my aging star was reaching back for one last gasp at glory …
And then Gainey became the GM. And all of a sudden things looked better.
In 2004 we beat the bruins, but this time, it wasn’t just Theodore standing on his head. There were actually other players on the ice that could play this game of hockey. And we signed Kovalev. And things looked better.
And then there was last years’ collapse. More to the point, there was last year’s putrid defense. How can you claim to be a hockey team when you can’t score on 5×5 and your top players are -20+? The team was fun to watch but at there was still no hope. Too much of the team was tied to a collection of aging veterans. Veterans who could only get worse, not better. And was Cristobal Huet really that good?
And now we beat the New Jersey F. Devils and our nemesis Martin F. Brodeur (who we declined to persue in 1999 when he was an RFA and maybe that’s why he has chosen to dominate us so thoroughly). And it’s not a fluke comeback. It’s a not 2-1 squeaker that could have gone either way. It’s a 4-0 dominating victory. Our goaltender blocked the shots, our defensemen held the Devils to the periphery, our forwards did whatever they wanted in the Devils zone.
And it wasn’t some aging collection of veterans, or some fluke victory, but the natural outcome of young players getting better, and a team that has been playing better and better by the day.
And you suddenly knew that after 15 years, we had a good team, a team that we did not have to dread following, a team that could make you look forward to April, a team that you enjoy watching, a team that could make you proud to be a fan.
After fifteen years of looking at the bottom of the standings, being embarrassed to cheer for your team (had we become the Toronto Maple Leafs) because cheering mediocrity was beneath a Habs fan when the Montreal fans gave the team a 2 minute standing ovation, and RDS and VS decided to shut up and just let us hear the fans roar, it wasn’t because the team beat Brodeur, it wasn’t because Price had a shutout, it was because after 15 fucking years in the wilderness, our beloved Habs were back.