The last game of the year has arrived and all I can say is, what a bizarre season it has been. We currently sit in 6th with 94 points, and considering our two best players have been a goalie and a rookie, I’m surprised we’re not in 12th. But that’s what the current edition of the Habs are all about: defying the odds and critics alike, every step of the way. They enter the playoffs as the team nobody is afraid on paper, but for some reason nobody really wants to play. There are two major reasons for this. One is obviously Carey Price. He’s the type of goalie that rarely misses a shot that he can see, and has taken his game to a new level this year. Price used to be a goalie that relied solely on his technique and positioning to stop pucks. This year he has learnt the art of scrambling and fighting for pucks, making desperation-type saves. This is bad news for any Hab opponent. The second thing that makes the Canadiens a scary team to play has less to do with the team, and more to do with the arena they play in. The Bell centre, with its loud and lets face it, annoying fans, can be a very hellish place to play in. If there’s a packed house that can make you lose your concentration, it’s the Bell Centre. All the players know it, and they can’t help but think about it when they first step on to the ice. It’s no fluke that the Bruins play so badly in the Bell Centre, and so much better at home. If the Habs draw the Bruins in the playoffs, it would only make sense that the series would go the distance. There are few teams in any sport that have a fan base as passionate as these two clubs. After all that has gone on between these teams all year long, it would be fitting to see them go head-to-head in the first round—any sports fan would tend to agree.
As for tonight’s game, well it would be nice to see some actual chemistry on the Plekanec line. I feel like they’re close, but not quite there yet. Getting a goal (or two) tonight against a Leafs team that will definitely not be going through the motions, would be a huge plus going into the playoffs. Another player I’d like to see have a strong game is Benoit Pouliot. He’s looked completely out of sorts lately, nothing like the Pouliot we saw at the beginning of the year, when he was scoring important goals and being a fore-checking nuisance for opposing defenses. Maybe he needs his old linemates Mathieu Darche and Jeff Halpern to get going, I don’t know. What I do know Is that he’s a player that can get hot and be a serious thorn in the side of opponents, but unfortunately can be the complete opposite as well; as in a player that takes bad penalties and does nothing but hurt his own team. He’s the type of role player that can make a huge difference, good or bad, in the upcoming playoffs. Besides that, I hope to see the Canadiens, win or lose, put in a playoff-type performance tonight. They aren’t a team that can afford to put up a stinker in its last game, and go into the playoffs doubting their own abilities. Being supremely confident is not one of their top qualities, and if there’s a playoff-bound team out there that needs to end the season on a positive note, it’s the Canadiens. So regardless of how little this game might mean in the standings or whom they play, to win tonight’s game would be a boon for the team psychologically, if nothing else. And as I’ve said before, the mental aspect of the game, being zoned in and confident in yourself and your teammates, has proven to be the ultimate factor in winning or losing, in all sports. In a league like the current NHL, one that is the poster child for parity, the mental edge is, in my opinion, the ultimate intangible for who comes out on top. One only has to look at the Montreal Canadiens’ run last year to the Conference Finals, or perhaps their unexpected Stanley Cup victory in 1993, to see that the proof is undoubtedly in the pudding.