Tuesday, May 18, 2010

To Hab Or Habnot

If the Habs manage to somehow win the Stanley Cup it will be almost the worst trend in the game since the 1995 New Jersey Devils Stanley Cup win.

Look, I get the whole Jaroslav Halak conjuring up images of '71 Ken Dryden and '86 and '93 Patrick Roy (why no respect for '84 Steve Penney?), but there is a HUGE difference between those teams and the current Habs one.

This notion that the Habs were some huge underdog in the Dryden and Roy years is a myth to some extent.

The 1971 upset was one of the biggest in NHL history from a shock standpoint but look at both the standings and the Habs' lineup in '70/71. The Habs were the 4th best team (.622 winning pct) in the NHL. Beyond Dryden their defence was an all-star and Hall of Fame cast and crew of J.C. Tremblay, Guy Lapointe, Jacques Laperriere, Serge Savard and Terry Harper. Throw in serviceable Pierre Bouchard and Bob Murdoch into the mix and that's not too shabby a D to battle the offensive juggernaut that was the '70s Big Bad Bruins.

The 1986 Habs had their pathway to the Final cleared for them thanks to upsets galore. The Habs had home ice advantage handed to them right up until the Final. The top two teams in the East (110-pt Philadelphia Flyers and the 107-pt Washington Capitals) were in the Patrick Division and both were knocked out by the time the Eastern Conference Final came about.

Out West, Calgary (thanks to Oiler Steve Smith's own goal) knocked off the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers in rd. 2 in possibly the biggest upset of the '80s ('82 Miracle on Manchester LA Kings object!).

So the 7th-placed Habs beat the 6th-overall Flames for the 1986 Cup. That was the only series the Habs pulled a de facto upset in.

The 1993 Habs also had only one series where they were the "underdog" and that was in rd. 1 vs. their bitter provincial rivals, the Quebec Nordiques. There's also some misinformation about this being an "underdog" Habs team despite its .607 winning pct. which placed it at 6th overall in the NHL. Anyway, thanks to Tom Barrasso not being able to stop a beachball in the seven-game series vs. the New York Islanders, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who had one of the greatest regular season teams of all-time, were gone in rd. 2. Thank you, David Volek.

So, in much the same way, thanks to the 2010 Habs offing both the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins, they have cleared the path much like other teams did for them in '86 and '93. Which gives me hope that the Philadelphia Flyers can knock off the Habs.

Because, you and I both know should this 19th-placed overall Hab team actually make the Final that would make them THE worst team ever to make a Stanley Cup Final. Not that the 18th-placed Philadelphia Flyers are any great shakes either but let's look at the alternative. If the Habs actually win the Stanley Cup, all these obnoxious Hab fans we all know will be even more insufferable.

That's not the worst. NHL teams tend to be copycats. If an 18th-placed team coached by Jacques Martin (a man who blew numerous opportunities at Cups with the underachieving yet offensively gifted Ottawa Senators) turns out to be champions, hockey is going to undergo as drastic a change as what the New Jersey Devils inflicted on the game in the '90s.

Everyone loves upsets but sometimes you have to live with what you wished for. If you like seeing your team's regular season rendered completely meaningless by a hot goalie and opportunistic scoring, then cheer on the Habs. If you want hockey to return to being a game where defence rules, then embrace Jacques Martin's lucky ties.

If not, hope and pray no matter what team comes out of the West that they smoke the Eastern rep in the Stanley Cup Final.

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