Hab-haters are in a giddy mood. They can’t wait for the series between Montreal and Washington to begin so they can be amused by the slaughter about to unfold. You’re screwed, you rotten bastard Habs, they exclaim with glee, a glee that probably rivals many of their best orgasms.
And of course on paper, these folks don’t have to be all that smart to come to their bitter and nasty conclusions. The Washington Capitals are loaded with firepower and the Habs aren’t. It’s about as clear-cut as you can get.
But two things come to mind as these smug armchair quarterbacks snort and sneeze from their allergies to the CH. Two upsets. Two huge upsets.
The first was my beer league team which entered a tournament with only six players and had to play three games in one day while suffering from massive hangovers. We played a team that enjoyed a full bench and lesser hangovers, but because we were such underdogs, we gave a little extra, almost puked several times on the bench and on the ice, and won the game with a last minute goal.
That was a big upset.
And there was another upset, although not quite as big as the beer league thing.
In 1970-71, the Boston Bruins finished with 121 points, exactly the same as the Washington Capitals this year. The Bruins were also loaded with gunners, just like the Caps. Phil Esposito tallied 152 points that year, Bobby Orr had 102 assists, John Bucyk managed 116 points, and Ken Hodge had 105 points. They were big, bad, and very talented.
These big, bad Bruins met the Montreal Canadiens in the quarterfinals of that year, and it was going to be a massacre to end all massacres. The Habs had Ken Dryden in nets, a guy who had played a total of six games in the NHL and looked like he’d rather be in a library. The coaching situation was unstable, Claude Ruel resigned, and Al McNeil had taken over. John Beliveau was 39 years old. And the Canadiens had missed the playoffs the previous year.
The future didn’t look all that bright.
No one gave Montreal a chance in that 1971 playoff series. But in game two, Montreal was losing 5-2 going into the third period and came back and won 7-5. It was the pivotal game and I remember listening to this classic on a transistor radio perched on a rock outside the shack I was living in at the time with a bunch of crazy hippies and American draft dodgers, none of whom had the slightest interest in what was going on.
And in the end, when the dust had settled on this quarterfinal series, Montreal shocked the Bruins by winning it in seven with big help from Dryden, then taking out both Minnesota and Chicago to capture the whole damn thing that year.
That’s what can happen. Washington has Ovechkin (109 points), Nicklas Backstrom (101), Alex Semin (84), and defenceman Mike Green (76), and of whom had higher totals than Montreal’s leading point-getter Tomas Plekanec, who managed 70 points this season. On paper, it’s not even fair.
But all the Habs have to do is have amazing goaltending, big goals from their first-liners, and nice, balanced scoring from everyone else. Ryan O’Byrne has to quit falling down, Roman Hamrlik has to speed up, and Marc-Andre Bergeron has to blast away and hit the net, especially on the power play. And Jaroslav Halak or Carey Price, whoever, must perform like Ken Dryden or Terry Sawchuk or Roger Crozier or Glenn Hall, goalies who stood on their proverbial heads come playoff time.
And come to think of it, everyone might want to concentrate on stopping Ovechkin too.
The team also has to have the fortitude to come through like my beer-league team that had only six players but still got the job done. And we had hangovers, something the Canadiens better not have if they plan on knocking off a great Washington Capitals team.