Drop the gloves during the playoffs with SI.com's writers in the NHL Cup Blog, a daily journal of hockey commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
7:01 PM ET, 4/25/06
Canadiens fans adopt pack mentality
Posted by Michael Farber
An early warning system has been installed in my house during the Stanley Cup playoffs. My wife watches the Montreal Canadiens game, on in French, upstairs; when I'm home, I catch the CBC feed, in English downstairs. About five seconds before Canadiens winger Michael Ryder scored Monday's winning goal in English, capping a wild 6-5 double overtime win over the Hurricanes, he bagged the game-winner in French, eliciting a scream from my wife that tipped me off to what was about to unfold.
On Wednesday, my 11th-grade, school-uniformed daughter (and her classmates) are allowed to wear Canadiens sweaters to school. I think she will go in her No. 27 Alexei Kovalev T-shirt.
Now this might be considered playoff fever by most people, a sign of civic fealty to a franchise that has won a record 24 Stanley Cups, but from my skewed perspective, it is the end of Western civilization. Two playoff wins in the first round over the ex-Hartford Whalers -- however delightfully unexpected they might have been -- and a city that purports to be the ultimate in hockey sophistication is comporting itself like ... like ... well, Raleigh, N.C.
Like whatever classy running back who used to flip the football to the official after he scored, you really should act like you've been there before.
When Montreal won its last Stanley Cup in 1993, the superb headline in the Montreal Gazette the following morning read: "Cup Comes Home." Exactly. All those other years when the Canadiens didn't win the Cup -- and there were a bunch after 1979, the year I moved here from New Jersey -- it was like the trophy just happened to be on loan, like the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg passing around Catherine The Great's crown jewels. At the time I became a Montrealer, the imperious mayor of the city, Jean Drapeau, used to issue a statement that said, "The Stanley Cup parade will proceed along the usual route." The championship was a rite of the too-short Montreal spring, as much an annual event as some people's 39th birthday. Even in 1993 -- the first Cup since 1986 and only the second since the dynasty effectively ended at the end of the 1970s -- the city regarded the title with as much noblesse oblige as hysteria. Turn on the TV and none of the news readers were dolled up in Canadiens gear like they might be in some yahoo hockey burg. The hotel clerks wore their usual attire, not a No. 33 sweater with Patrick Roy's name on the back. Montreal had its usual post-Stanley Cup parade and a doozy of a riot, but at least like it acted as it had been there before.
So much has changed in the past 13 years. After the Canadiens' seeming life-and-death struggle to make the playoffs every year, eighth-place mania invariably gripping the town, a single postseason win -- a game, not even a series -- causes giddiness among the inhabitants. The unbridled joy at knocking off Boston in 2004 and taking a lead in the second-round series against Carolina in 2002 generally was viewed as charming even if it seemed to me to be an insult to the ghosts of Rocket Richard and Jacques Plante and the others who defined the game and the city. After years of indifferent Canadiens' management -- something that seems to be slowly turning under Bob Gainey -- Montreal now chooses to abandon its heritage, its hockey snobbery, and join the pack.
Have fun, folks. Honk the horns. Put those CH flags on your cars after winning a pair on the road. There is always a market for mediocrity, even here.
Before each playoff game, Detroit's veteran forward Tomas Holmstrom gives 25-year-old left wing Henrik Zetterberg the same advice. "Put the puck in the net," Holmstrom tells him. "You never know what's going to happen."
Zetterberg takes Homer's advice to heart because, more than ever, he knows the burden is on him to score big goals. His linemate, center Pavel Datsyuk, is struggling to regain his speed since missing five games in the regular season and the playoff series opener against Edmonton with a bruised left thigh. The series is tied 1-1 and the Red Wings face two games in Edmonton on Tuesday and Thursday.
"There's pressure," Zetterberg tells SI.com. "But it's not negative pressure. It's just part of the game. You have to have pressure otherwise you're not doing well. The better you do, the more pressure [there is] on you. You just have to handle it."
Zetterberg soared through the regular season with 85 points, two behind team leader Datsyuk and one behind goal leader Brendan Shanahan (40). The young Swede averaged more than a point per game during the regular season, but his playoff record has been subpar. Zetterberg combined for just 4 goals and 2 assists in 18 playoff games in three seasons. On Sunday, he tied the game 2-2 with a goal in the second period against the Oilers, but Detroit ultimately lost 4-2.
So far, Detroit has gotten the majority of its help from Robert Lang and Daniel Cleary's lines. The third and fourth lines have contributed nine points, with fourth line winger Kirk Maltby scoring the game-tying and game-winning goals in the series opener on April 21. The difficult task for Zetterberg is finding a way to score with Edmonton's top defensemen Chris Pronger and Jason Smith tracking his every move.
"It's a challenge for the kid," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "[Datsyuk and Zetterberg] are premier players in the league. If we do our job, they'll score in the playoffs. They're too good and too competitive [to not to.]"
Babcock, however, won't stay patient for long if Zetterberg and his linemate don't start producing crucial playoff goals immediately. The last thing the 2005-06 President's Trophy-winners need is to return to Detroit down 1-3. Zetterberg knows he still has a lot to prove in the playoffs, and takes the expectations in stride. "[The playoffs] are the fun part of the year," he said. "You play the same team a bunch of night in a row. You get to know the players from the other team. It get a little intense, and that's just fun."
Is it time for the Stars, Hurricanes, Flyers and Rangers to start making tee times? After all, they've fallen behind 2-0 in their respective first-round playoff series, and while rallying to win the series is not impossible, it's definitely improbable. Of the 264 times that teams have trailed 2-0 in a best-of-seven NHL series, just 35 have come back to advance to the next round. In other words, a bleak 13.3 percent of the time.
For the Stars and Hurricanes, the situation is slightly worse, since they lost both games at home. Of those 35 back-from-the-dead winners, 15 started out by losing the first two on home ice. That includes the 1942 Stanley Cup Finals, when the Maple Leafs dropped the first three games to Detroit before reeling off four straight to claim the Cup, a feat that has yet to be matched in Finals history.
Speaking of the Cup, of those 35 teams, just seven went on to claim the championship. In other words, by falling behind 2-0, the Stars, Hurricanes, Flyers and Rangers each has a 2.7 percent chance (7/264) of going all the way. Only the 2002 Red Wings have done that in the past decade.
So, are the 0-2 teams done?
STARS: They set a franchise-record with 25 road wins this season, so that's a positive. But the Avs are working harder and playing smarter. The Stars' talent level makes them scary, but goalie Marty Turco has yet to show he can steal a playoff game. Giving up 10 goals in the first two games -- whether it was his fault or not -- supports the belief that he disappears in the postseason. Prediction: DONE.
HURRICANES: Tough to win when you can't count on your goaltending (see above). Martin Gerber has been pulled early. The Canadiens showed lots of grit in Monday's double-OT win; they've shown lots of grit in recent years as a lower first-round seed, shocking Boston in both 2002 and 2004. The Hurricanes are primed to be the next victim. Prediction: DONE.
FLYERS: The Sabres have climbed into the Flyers' heads -- and it goes all the way to the top, with coach Ken Hitchcock upset at comments made by counterpart Lindy Ruff following Buffalo's 8-2 rout at home. That Game 1 check by Brian Campbell apparently set the tone in this series. So why do I think Peter Forsberg & Co. will have a response on home ice? This one reaches Game 7 -- when anything's possible. Prediction: NOT YET.
RANGERS: The Devils have won 13 straight; the Rangers have lost seven straight. And the Devils are 9-0 in series when they've won the first two games. No telling how effective Jaromir Jagr will be after missing Game 2 with an injury. Be surprised if this one goes back to Jersey. Prediction: DONE.
So what do you think? Any of these teams still have life left in them? Let me hear it.
UPDATE AT 3:30 PM: Hmm, from your responses, guess I'm an idiot for thinking the Flyers can climb back into this series. Fair enough. Of course, everyone wants to focus on the 8-2 thrashing in Game 2 as indicative of how the rest of the way will go, but what about Game 1 when the Flyers took the Sabres into double-OT? I'll be very surprised if the Sabres waltz into the Wachovia and dominate like many of you seem to think they will. But if you're right, maybe Hitch can still get tickets to that big Civil War re-enactment in S. Carolina in early May.
Forget planning the route to the Garden for Game 3. No, many Rangers fans
may take a detour and stake out a prime spot on the George Washington or
Verrazano and pull the plug on their own playoff misery without giving their
team a chance to energize itself at home Wednesday. Monday night in the
Devils' Den, a despondent Rangers fan, a male roughly 40 years of age, turned to his
fellow Blueshirts worshippers and said, "There's no sense in going to Game
3." Another said the two playoff losses have "undone everything the Rangers
did this season." And then there were the other comments from several more
Rangers "fans" directed toward their team and specific players that are not
acceptable for this forum. To think this was a road game.
True, we live in a here-and-now world and what was expected on opening night
in October has nothing to do with where we are at presently. But starting
earlier this season with the hideous abuse of Kevin Weekes, one of the
nicest and classiest individuals in professional sports, and continuing with
the very quick boo birds directed at the team down the stretch, the attitude
of many Rangers fans has been inexcusably shameful.
Their team went from one that was mostly projected to finish, oh 12th to
15th in the 15-team Eastern Conference, to a 100-point club that was
thankfully a distant cousin to the stench of 2003-04 and every other season
dating back to their last playoff year of '96-97. Sadly, all that means
nothing to many a Ranger fan and hopefully they will stay home for Games 3
and 4. Those few true fans who hung around for the on-ice ceremony following
a loss in the home finale last week, hopefully you will wind up with those