This was the joyous scene on St. Catherine street in Montreal last night as the Canadiens defeated the Washington Capitals 2-1 in game 7 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series.
While the Caps’ collapse — losing a 3-1 series lead as the No. 1 playoff seed — was historic, the Habs (short for “les Habitants”) deserve high praise. They controlled the NHL’s highest-scoring offense and allowed only one power play goal from a team that had averaged 25% scoring all year. The Canadiens are the longest continuously operating professional ice hockey team and have won 24 Stanley Cups (including their first in 1916, before the NHL existed), more than any other team. But it’s been 18 years since they last won the title, a painfully long drought for a proud franchise.
The Canadiens, on goals by Marc-Andre Bergeron and Dominic Moore, hung on in the dying seconds to upset the President Trophy winning Capitals. It marks the first time an eighth seed manages to come from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the league’s top club. The story’s beginning goes back seven seasons, when at the World Junior under 18 tournament, a pair of Canadiens scouts watched in amazement as Slovakian goaltender Jaroslav Halak repeatedly shut the door of Russian snipers Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Malkin. The impressed scouts took note, and chose Halak in the ninth round of the 2003 draft, and the rest is history
The Canadiens finished 33 points behind the Capitals in the regular season and scored a whopping 101 fewer goals than the Caps, but none of that mattered Wednesday night. The Caps were unable to find the net and continued to take costly penalties that Montreal gladly capitalized on. Such excitement over a first-round series would once have been unthinkable in Montreal. This is a city that celebrated eight Stanley Cup championships in 12 seasons between 1967-68 and 1978-79; but, since their last Cup win in 1993, it’s become a rare occurrence for the Habs to make it past the first round.
So maybe Montreal’s new dreams of a restored dynasty will become real? Who knows where this improbable upset will lead.