Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Montreal Canadiens' Jaroslav Halak (R) is congratulated by P.K. Subban after their team defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 of their NHL Eastern Conference semi-final hockey series in Montreal, May 10, 2010. REUTERS/Shaun Best (SHAUN BEST)
Montreal Canadiens' Jaroslav Halak (R) is congratulated by P.K. Subban after their team defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 of their NHL Eastern Conference semi-final hockey series in Montreal, May 10, 2010. REUTERS/Shaun Best (SHAUN BEST)

Roy MacGregor

Habs take it to the limit Add to ...

They not only write the Hollywood version on the ice, they provide the Arnold Schwarzenegger-inspired dialogue.



"We are not going to go away," Mike Cammalleri said after his Montreal Canadiens went down in Game 5.



In Game 6 they announced they would stay to fight yet again, an astonishing 4-3 victory forcing a winner-take-all match Wednesday in Pittsburgh against the defending-Stanley-Cup-champion Penguins.



"Off to Game 7," said a smiling Scott Gomez, "here we go!"



Impossible, you say - well, join a long line of non-believers when it comes to the 2009-2010 Montreal Canadiens.



The Penguins, on the other hand, seemed destined to close out this series on the road. In every playoff round that coach Dan Bylsma has been behind the bench, final victory has come in another city: Philadelphia, Washington, Carolina, Detroit (where they won last year's Cup), Ottawa, Montreal. …



Only it didn't happen as scheduled.



Perhaps this was because they were playing Montreal, a team that was supposed to have fallen easily in Round One to the Washington Capitals.



That's the problem in a spring where the playoffs have turned even more unpredictable than the weather.



Cammalleri underlined his point barely a minute into the game when he scored on Montreal's first shot, one-timing a perfect Tomas Plekanic pass behind Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-André Fleury, who had played so brilliantly in Game 5 but would not be so in Game 6.



Surprise, of course, has been all but the official game plan for the Montreal Canadiens this remarkable season for the little-engine-that-could team.



It is a story that begins under arched eyebrows in the summer of 2009, when general manager Bob Gainey let a total of 10 unsigned players leave, including captain Saku Koivu and popular star Alexei Kovalev and brought in a trio of Smurfs - tiny Brian Gionta, Gomez and Cammalleri - at an eye-popping cost of $18.4-million (U.S.) a year.



Few predicted they could even reach the playoffs.



In the team's centennial year, the Montreal Canadiens likely went through more significant change than any team in NHL history: new owners in a consortium led by the Molson brothers, new general manager in Pierre Gauthier (Gainey essentially relieved himself of duties midseason), new coach in Jacques Martin, seven new players and no captain.



Expectations could hardly have been lower.



And yet, this team that squeaked into the final seed of the post-season, managed to come from being down 3-1 to Washington Capitals and in Game 7 send the NHL's biggest draw, Alex Ovechkin, off to Germany to play in the world championships.



Then it was Pittsburgh, the team of Sidney Crosby and the defending Stanley Cup champions, now taken to the very brink.



"What an opportunity we have," Cammalleri said in a surprisingly subdued Montreal dresssing room.



In a bewildering brew of Martin's defensive coaching, spectacular goaltending by the intended team backup, Jaroslav Halak, and the suffocating play of 6-foot-7 giant Hal Gill, the Canadiens had somehow managed to keep Crosby from scoring.



With Gill missing due to an accidental leg cut from another player's skate in the previous game, Crosby finally did score to even the game at 1-1 in the first period.



"It was nice to see one go in," said Crosby, who later assisted on a weak Kris Letang goal that briefly put the Penguins ahead early in the second.



It seemed, at that point, that reality was finally settling in, but it was not to be. Cammalleri scored again - his 11th of the playoffs - and then Jaroslav Spacek, playing his first game after returning from injury, scored on a point shot. Montreal's fourth goal came from Maxim Lapierre.



Pittsburgh hit three posts in the second period alone. "Couple of those go in," said disappointed Pittsburgh forward Craig Adams, "it would be a different story."



In the dying minutes of the game, Pittsburgh's Bill Guerin took the game to within a goal on a late tip-in, but it was too little, too late.



"We had our share of chances," said Crosby.



Both early series - first against Ottawa, now against Montreal - have to have raised serious questions about the possibility of Pittsburgh repeating as champions this year. And it goes far deeper than the spotty play of Fleury.



Ottawa was playing with several players, including Daniel Alfredsson, battling injury. In Montreal's case, they had already lost Spacek and in this series lost, first, top defender Andrei Markov and then Gill.



Halak has obviously been the Cinderella-Rocky-Schwarzenegger story of this spring run - if they could award the Conn Smythe MVP award after two rounds he'd have run off with it - but he is far from the only story.



The entire underestimated Canadiens have been a story all year.



The Washington Capitals were a story, or disappointed.



And the Pittsburgh Penguins are today a story in search of an ending, which is certain to come, one way or another, Wednesday.



"Game 7s," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said Monday, "feel like a flip of the coin."



And he and his team are already spinning from what the Canadiens have managed so far.

 

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular