Let the games begin.
There will be at least four of them, as the Canadiens get set to open the Stanley Cup Playoffs Thursday night in Washington against the Capitals. The Canadiens’ “earned” their trip to post-season play, thanks to an overtime loss to the Leafs at the Bell Centre last Saturday in Montreal’s final game of the regular season. As a result, the Habs head into post-season play mired in a three-game losing streak.
“THEY DON’T DESERVE TO BE IN THE PLAYOFFS!!!” is the war cry I’ve heard from many Canadiens’ fans, to which my response is:
The Canadiens very much deserve to be in the playoffs. Why? Because when all is said and done, they finished with enough points to take the 8th and final playoff spot. End of story. That’s the only thing that matters for this team, right now. They are on the inside looking out, which is more than you can say for the New York Rangers, for example.
Do the Flyers deserve to be in the playoffs any more than the Canadiens’ do? No. But they got there. And that’s all that matters.
In other words: it wasn’t pretty. In fact, at times, it was downright ugly. But the Habs got the job done.
There wasn’t very much that was pretty about the 2009-2010 edition of the Montreal Canadiens. After going through wholesale changes during the off-season, this is a Habs’ team that was decimated with injuries; beginning with Andrei Markov’s extended stint on the sidelines.
Fast forward to the eve of their playoff opener in Washington, and the Canadiens are a relatively healthy bunch: and getting healthier by the day, it would seem. Glen Metropolit, the feisty veteran who went down with a shoulder injury March 27 against the New Jersey Devils, was back on the ice this morning at the team’s practice facility in Brossard. After skating on his own for a few days, this was Metro’s first trip to the rink with his teammates. Although Metro made the trip to Washington, head coach Jacques Martin said it’s too early to speculate when Metropolit will be ready to return to action.
As the Habs get set to take to the ice against Jose Theodore (!) and the rest of the Capitals tomorrow night at the Verizon Center, the question I have for you is this:
Which Montreal Canadiens team will show up? The team that won six straight after the Olympic break? The team that posted back-to-back shutouts against the Flyers and the Sabres to open up the month of April? Or the team that lost three straight to close the regular season, against clubs that went nowhere in 2009-2010.
While we’re at it: which Jaroslav Halak will we see? The Halak who blanked the Flyers and Sabres on back to back nights, April 2 and 3, or the Halak who looked ordinary, and at times downright scary (particularly against the Leafs), in the final three games of the regular season.
Truth be told, I don’t know the answer to that question. Does ANY ONE know the answer to that question? No. That’s why they play the games. That’s why I was not prepared to count the Habs’ out, when then General Manager Bob Gainey blew up this team and went out and picked up the likes of Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri during the off-season.
That’s why they play the games.
But I will say this. Although Martin has yet to confirm this, I think it’s safe to say that Halak will get the start tomorrow night. I think it’s also safe to say that should Halak wet the bed in game one, and continues to fight the puck the way he did against the Leafs, you will see Carey Price in goal, sooner rather than later. Because there is no way in the world that Martin will live and die with Halak in goal, the way Bob Gainey lived and died with Carey Price last season against the Boston Bruins in a first-round matchup that did NOT go well for your Montreal Canadiens.