When Dreams Come True: Les Canadiens
It doesn’t get any better than this. Last night the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semi-finals to force a 7th and deciding game. And so, Habs fans everywhere are elated that this wild ride continues against all odds.
The Canadiens’ miraculous playoff run has been covered from seemingly every angle so why not one more vantage point – from the streets of Montreal. And brother, these streets are buzzing. Today on my walk to-and-from work I couldn’t help but notice that things are different here in Montreal. In fact, the mood in this city has changed dramatically over the past month. The sentiments that it would be yet another humdrum hockey season without any chance of the beloved home team making a return to its former glory have been replaced with a distinctive feeling that has swept across this sprawling metropolis. That feeling, of course, is hope. Hope that something completely unexpected yet completely brilliant could occur and lift the spirits of an entire fan base. It’s a feeling that has been noticeably absent in this city for many years. I turned 13 on the day the Canadiens last won the Stanley Cup. That was 17 years ago. And now it’s the first season since that magical run in 1993 that the Canadiens have won more than 6 playoff games. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? I almost have to pinch myself to believe that it’s actually happening. Steeped in the frenzy of a Habs-crazed city, I’m cherishing every moment.
It’s indescribable. I lived in Calgary during the Flames’ Stanley Cup run in ‘04 and I was in Ottawa during the Stanley Cup finals of ‘07, yet the atmosphere in each of those cities doesn’t hold a candle to the enthusiasm on display right now in Montreal. The city is electric. You can almost taste the excitement that has spread like wildfire. People are pumped up. Everyone’s talking about the inspired play of the Habs. And the shocking possibility of a visit from Lord Stanley has captured our hearts and imaginations. There’s an extra hop in everyone’s step. Strangers clad in Habs paraphernalia exchange knowing glances on the sidewalks. Normally aggressive cab drivers are yielding to pedestrians donning the CH at crosswalks. Canadiens flags adorning the windows of vehicles have become a ubiquitous sight. And on game day ANY seat, whether it is at the Bell Centre, the local watering hole, or the living room, is the very best seat in the house.
There’s something great about cheering for this team. It’s funny that back in February I was lauding Sidney Crosby for being Canada’s golden boy at the Olympics and now I’d like nothing more for him to take his whine and cheese party back to Pittsburgh for the summer. This is bigger than the Olympics. Yes, it was a great moment for this nation when Sid scored that overtime goal to win gold for Canada. It’s a moment that will stand the test of time. But this is different. It’s not just that the Habs are such massive underdogs. It’s the scope of the Stanley Cup. It’s the most coveted trophy in sports. I’ll never forget a post-game interview with Mats Naslund after the Swedish team beat Canada in the gold medal game of the 1994 Olympics. When asked how the moment compared to winning the Stanley Cup with the Canadiens in 1986, he didn’t hesitate to declare that it wasn’t even close – the Stanley Cup is the ultimate title and nothing is sweeter. It’s the culmination of a loooong season and grueling playoffs. After having watched all 82 regular season games this season, I can safely say that this playoff run has made it all worthwhile. These moments define my fandom.
The Canadiens have already exceeded expectations and then some. They knocked off the venerable Capitals in the first round – a feat most considered an impossibility at the outset of the playoffs. And now they’re in a position to perform another miracle. I find myself betraying promises made not two weeks ago by once again asking the ghosts of the old Montreal Forum, “Please, if you could just let them win one more….” Maybe it will all come to an end in Game 7. Maybe the dreams of this city will finally fade away. And all that will be left are memories of an incredible month back in the spring of 2010 when it felt like anything was possible. Win or lose on Wednesday, one thing is for certain – there’s nowhere else on Earth I’d rather be right now.
Photo by Steve Troletti