You’ll have to excuse me if I have a sense of Deja Vu as the Canadiens get set to take to the ice for their final 15 games of the regular season, beginning with the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at the Bell Centre.
I can’t help but look at what transpired with this Montreal Canadiens’ team exactly one year ago, when the Habs were fighting tooth and nail for a playoff spot. I can’t help but look back as the Habs entered a particularly critical stretch of the regular season in February, in desperate need of two points. And I can not help but remember how Jaroslav Halak backstopped the Canadiens to four straight wins from Feb. 21-28; with a particularly big two points coming at the Bell Centre against Western Conference competition in the San Jose Sharks.
I also think back to how Halak was inexplicably shown the door for an extended period of time after posting that four-game winning streak, as the game of musical goaltenders continued for this club for the remainder of the regular season. The Habs did go back to Halak a half-dozen times after that, but he could do no better than a 2-4 record.
The Canadiens did, when all was said and done, advance to the post-season dance, despite their play, not because of it. And they went on to compete (?) in a first-round playoff to forget against the Boston Bruins.
It was always interesting to me that the Canadiens finally settled on one goaltender, in Price, during their brief playoff run. A show of hands, now: Is there anybody out there who doesn’t believe that Halak deserved at least one start against the Bruins?
I didn’t think so.
So, here we are, one year later. And Jaroslav Halak is coming off another “big win.” And it just so happens to have come against a Western Conference team: not the Sharks, this time, but the Anaheim Ducks, Sunday night: a 4-3 shootout victory. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more unlikely two points than the ones the Canadiens came up with in Anaheim. Or a bigger two points.
A show of hands, again, please: Is there anyone out there who truly believed the Canadiens would emerge from Anaheim with a “W” in their back pocket, after falling behind 3-0 in the first period?
I didn’t think so.
But they did. And the comeback began with coach Jacques Martin’s decision to lift Carey Price heading into period number two, and replace him with the goaltender who, on most nights, continues to give his teammates a chance to win. That’s all you can expect from your goalie. And that’s exactly what the Canadiens got from Halak that night in Anaheim.
On the one hand, Martin wasn’t blaming Price for the 3-0 hole they found themselves in, after 20 minutes. But, on the other hand, The Coach was blaming Price for the 3-0 hole the Canadiens found themselves in.
Regardless, exit Price. Enter Halak. And the rest is history. And, after all, this is a history lesson.
History will also show that Halak goes into tonight’s game against the Bolts as the team’s Molson Cup winner for January-February. Now, I’m the first to admit that the Molson Cup is little more than a beauty contest that ultimately rewards the player who earns the most three-star selections in any given month.
However, there’s a reason why Halak earned those three-star selections. It’s the same reason why the Canadiens did not trade Halak at the deadline. It’s the same reason why Halak deserved every single ounce of respect he garnered on the world stage as the goaltender of record for Team Slovakia at the Vancouver Winter Games.
And it’s the same reason why Halak deserves to start tonight against the Lightning; Wednesday night against the Oilers; Saturday night against the Bruins…
End of history lesson.