What a difference a year makes.
If your Montreal Canadiens do not win another playoff game this spring, they will still have (mostly) exorcised the demons that plagued fans through last summer.
The last game of the 2012-’13 season was played at the Bell Centre on the second Thursday in May.
With Peter Budaj in nets and Robert Mayer as his backup, the Ottawa Senators beat the Canadiens 6-1.
To the dismay and multi-month misery of their passionate fans, the Canadiens made an ignominious five-game exit from a quarter-final series in which they were outscored, outhustled and, most embarrassingly, outmuscled.
Fast-forward 11 months and two weeks.
In sweeping Tampa Bay, the Canadiens won their first playoff series since 2010.
They will play the Detroit-Boston winner in an eastern Conference semifinal, and they’ll enter the next series with momentum.
Game Four exemplified what the Canadiens were able to accomplish all through their series against the Lightning.
• They got goals from each of their four lines.
• Outside of a brief letdown in the early part of the third period, the Canadiens got airtight defence and rock-solid goaltending from Carey Price.
• Unlike the Lightning, the Canadiens didn’t take bad penalties.
• 11 skaters made the scoresheet.
• Steven Stamkos was held to two shots on goal.
• Rene Bourque continued his postseason renaissance with seven shots on goal, plus three that Tampa Bay blocked and three that missed the net. Bourque, who was a healthy scratch for nine games this season – including five in March – had three goals and 22 SoG against the Lightning. His line, with Lars Eller and Brian Gionta, was the Canadiens’ best in the series.
• The goal by Max Pacioretty at 19:17 of the third period marked the first time in team history that a Canadien has won a playoff series in the last minute of regulation.
• Through four games, including an OT, Tampa Bay held the lead for three minutes, 34 seconds.
• Ginette Reno is 2-0.
For the record, Stephen Harper, who grew up in Toronto, is a Leafs fan.
But the PM recognizes a reality that seems to have escaped the knobs at Hockey Night in Canada:
In the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens are Canada’s team.
And they’re doing the country proud, with outstanding contributions from all the native sons on the roster:
• Carey Price and Josh Gorges, the B.C. Boys:
• P.K. Subban, the Torontonian who dogged his minor-hockey teammate, Steven Stamkos, all through the series; and his fellow Ontarian Mike Weaver and Brandon Prust
• Brendan Gallagher, possibly the smallest Albertan with the biggest heart to ever play in the NHL … and probably the biggest set of clanking brass ones
• Rene Bourque, the pride of Alberta’s métis community in Lac La Biche
• Dale Weise, a late season acquisition who plays the kind of hard-hitting they teach on all those cold winter nights in Manitoba
• And, of course, the homeboys: David Desharnais, Daniel Brière, Francis Bouillon and Michäel Bournival, the hard-working kid who drew the penalty that led to Max Pacioretty’s power-play winner.
Pacioretty is not Canadian. Neither are Brian Gionta, Thomas Plekanec, Alexei Emelin and Andrei Markov, Thomas Vanek or the great Dane, Lars Eller.
They all contributed to move a Canadian team into Round 2 of the playoffs.
There were no passengers on the Canadiens’ bus against Tampa Bay. And the contributions were so evenly balanced among 18 skaters that Michel Therrien will face a tough decision if Alex Galchenyuk and Travis Moen are ready for the next round.
Maybe not so tough in Moen’s case. The Canadiens’ fourth line – Brière, Weise and Bournival – was outstanding against Tampa Bay.
And whom would you sit for Galchenyuk?
Rene Bourque? I don’t think so.
Same depth story on the back end. While some pundits lobby for Jarred Tinordi and suggest Douglas Murray would be needed if the next opponent is Boston, the much-maligned Francis Bouillon and Mike Weaver were each plus-5 – high on the team – against Tampa Bay.
I can’t see Therrien tinkering with a lineup that was, top to bottom, outstanding against Tampa Bay.
If it’s the Red Wings in Round 2, the Canadiens will face kind of speed and skill they saw from the Lightning – with more playoff experience and a better – if less quotable – head coach.
If it’s the Bruins …
Well, it’s gotta be the Bruins, eh? Just to maintain tradition.
• Ron MacLean gets it caught in his zipper big-time. What a schmuck!
• Shout-out to Bob, my dog’s best friend: