He looks resplendent in a red suit, but Marc Bergevin has more than a great flare for fashion. Since he took over as general manager of the Canadiens in May of 2012, the teams he has constructed have enjoyed more playoff success than any other in Canada.
Overall the group is a weak lot, but in those nine years Montreal has won a combined five playoff rounds. The Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Senators have won three each, the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks have each won one, and the Toronto Maple Leafs none.
It takes four rounds to win the Stanley Cup, so that says something about the meagre achievements of the organizations in our home and native land. The Canadiens were Canada’s last team to hoist the trophy – and it was in 1993. It is so long ago that Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner weren’t born.
The chances are it won’t happen again this year, but Montreal is making a nice go of it. The Canadiens won seven games in a row to eliminate Toronto and Winnipeg and begin the Stanley Cup semi-finals against the Golden Knights in Las Vegas on Monday night. The Canadiens were ranked the lowest among the 16 teams that reached the postseason, while Vegas is the top remaining seed. It is the third time in the franchise’s four years to get this far, which is irksome to more established organizations – see Toronto – and a model for the expansion Seattle Kraken, which will begin play in the NHL this fall.
Bergevin presided over a news conference over the weekend in advance of Game 1 and he spoke about the team’s unusual route to this point. After a fast start, the Canadiens hit a lull, had players sidelined and games suspended because of COVID-19, seemingly backed into the last playoff spot in the all-Canadian North Division and have since gone on a surprising roll.
“It was difficult,” said Bergevin, who has worn the same red suit now for seven consecutive game days. “I saw players who cared but were mentally and physically really tired. It was tough, but they battled through it. We got in [to the playoffs] and I have always said once you are in, anything is possible.
“We are sitting here today excited about the challenge of facing the Golden Knights and we are well aware we are the underdog and we don’t care.”
At this point, a tip of the cap to Bergevin is in order. He has made a handful of moves that significantly bolstered Montreal’s lineup – adding Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson in the offseason and bringing in Corey Perry and Eric Staal later on.
Toffoli won a Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings and led the Canadiens with 28 goals during the regular season. Anderson’s 17 goals were the second-most on the team. Perry, who is 36, won a Stanley Cup in 2007 with Anaheim and has been a force for Montreal during the playoffs. Staal, also 36, won a Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006 and has created lots of mayhem while teaming with Perry on the fourth line.
“The guys who won a Stanley Cup were not brought in here by accident,” Bergevin said. “They were brought in by design, and I think it is paying off now. We have some young kids, but we have strong leaders that have been through all the battles. We knew we were bringing in guys with character.
“The message they have given the team is that if you go to the conference final or Stanley Cup final it doesn’t automatically mean you will be back there a year from now. It is a privilege to be where we are today. It takes a long time sometimes to be in the position we are in, so you have to seize the moment and make the best of it. That’s what the message was, and the response has been very good so far.”
Montreal hopes to make its first appearance in the Stanley Cup final since 1993, when it captured its 24th championship. With a victory over Vegas, it can become the first Canadian franchise to reach the Stanley Cup final since Vancouver in 2011.
The Canadiens will need to be as good or better than they were against the Maple Leafs and Jets, and will need a dominant performance out of goaltender Carey Price. His matchup in net with Marc-André Fleury of the Golden Knights, a fellow future Hall of Famer, is one for the ages.
“There is no doubt in my mind every single player in the league knows Carey is the best goalie in the league, and that he can steal you a game,” said Paul Byron, the Montreal forward. “That rubs off on the rest of us.”
Critics argue that the Canadiens emerged as the best team in the weakest division in the NHL. Bergevin says there was nothing easy about playing in the North. Among other things, the travel was far more difficult than in any of the other three.
“So far being the underdog hasn’t hurt us,” Bergevin said. “We are happy, but we are not satisfied. We have some unfinished business and it starts in Vegas on Monday night.”