When the North Division playoffs began, I had the Edmonton Oilers beating the Winnipeg Jets in five games and the Toronto Maple Leafs rolling over the Montreal Canadiens, also in five games. That was supposed to set up a Toronto-Edmonton match-up in the division final that I saw the Oilers winning in seven games. You?
Of course, those genius picks went sideways in a hurry when the Jets swept the Oilers in a series that was considerably tighter than 4-0 looks on paper and the underdog Canadiens battled back from a 3-1 series deficit to upset the Maple Leafs in seven games — a result that delighted millions of people right across the country.
Jump ahead to today and the Canadiens have pulled yet another upset, emerging as North Division champions by beating the Jets 3-2 in overtime Monday. They’ve completed a four-game sweep absolutely nobody saw coming to advance against either the Colorado Avalanche or the Vegas Golden Knights.
While common sense tells us Montreal’s roll — they’ve won seven straight games since going down 3-1 against Toronto — will come to an end the next round, they’ve beaten the odds so far while the Oilers, Maple Leafs and Jets have been reduced to the role of spectators, left watching and wondering WTF went wrong?
The underdog storyline endures. Fans in Montreal, where they haven’t had a Stanley Cup parade since 1993, are having a helluva good time these days, much the way fans around here did in 2006 when the Oilers rode a stunning first-round upset over the Detroit Red Wings all the way to a Game 7 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup final. What an emotional roller-coaster ride that was. Just get in, baby. You never know.
TAKE YOUR SHOT
I’m not bringing up 2006 to pick at the scab of that Game 7 loss to the Hurricanes or to rub in this season’s first-round exit against the Jets, who the Oilers owned 7-2 during the regular season. Quite the opposite. The longer the shot — the Canadiens are the fourth seed in the North Division while the Oilers snuck into the 2006 playoffs in eighth place in the conference, 29 points behind the Red Wings — the sweeter each win is until the ride ends.
Almost nobody picked the Oilers to beat the Red Wings in the first round of 2006. They prevailed in six games, igniting a party that carried on through a 4-2 series win over the San Jose Sharks and a five-game conference final victory over the Anaheim Ducks, sending them to the final against Carolina. It wasn’t supposed to happen, but Dwayne Roloson, Chris Pronger, Ryan Smyth, Ales Hemsky and all the players on that team said, “Hold my beer.” It was a great story, whether you were in the seats or the press box.
This edition of the Canadiens isn’t anywhere near the kind of longshots the Oilers were against Detroit, but watching Carey Price, back in Vezina Trophy form, Tyler Toffoli and the rest of the Habs get things done plays right into that underdog storyline. “It kind of feels like nobody believes in us,” Toffoli said. “We’re sticking together. We’re playing as one and we’re winning games and having fun.” That’s the tried-and-true “us against the world” rallying cry we’ve heard countless times, like back in 2006.
With GM Ken Holland and coach Dave Tippett in the throes of trying to put together a roster around Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl that can get something done, and with the Oilers out of the playoff picture for a second straight year – they’ve made the second round just once since 2006 – I’m not expecting too many fans around here to get revved up over the underdog Habs.
It goes without saying getting things straightened out with the Oilers before McDavid and Draisaitl request trades to Toronto is front of mind, as it should be. And while I’m not going to trot out the Canada’s Team bit with the Habs, I do like the storyline. It can be compelling, to say the least, no matter how it ends.
Previously by Robin Brownlee
- Survey Says…
- Glass Houses
- Encore in the Crease
- The Price You Pay
- Grease is the Word
- A Different Kind of Animal