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11:58 PM ET, 5/2/06
Habs fail to produce old home magic
Posted by Michael Farber
MONTREAL -- There are only three institutions in Western civilization that truly understand pomp and ceremony: the House of Windsor, the Vatican and the Montreal Canadiens.
No franchise in the NHL puts on quite as good a show, if not in the actual playing of the game but in all the doodads and gimmicks that surround it. This is known as game presentation -- like Google, this is a relatively new expression in the lexicon -- and for Game 6 of their series against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night, the Canadiens showed a video of their 1971 Stanley Cup on the ice and then cut to injured captain Saku Koivu as the final notes of the Canadian national anthem sounded. Not quite a Willis Reed moment -- Koivu did not suddenly yank off his civvies and glide out for the opening faceoff -- but one designed for maximum emotional effect on a frenzied crowd of 21,273.
To put it another way, the Canadiens were trying to summon the ghosts of the old Forum.
The old Forum, gone a decade, now houses a cinema multiplex and, perhaps, the phantoms associated with the team that has won a record 24 Stanley Cups. Certainly the ghosts never made the move about a mile east to the new Forum, which currently goes by the name of Bell Centre. There have been no Cups here. Indeed, Montreal never has made a conference final in its new digs. After losing its fourth straight game to the balanced Hurricanes and crashing out of the playoffs, Montreal is 8-16 there during the playoffs. The arena is raucous and fun -- "Even for a visiting player, the energy in the building is amazing," the Hurricanes' Kevyn Adams told me after Carolina's 2-1 overtime victory -- but it is just another cavernous joint, part of the cookie-cutter era of the NHL. Is it any coincidence that the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks and Canadiens all have been ineffectual since leaving their storied, quirky barns with their odd corners and peculiar boards? I doubt it. So much has been lost in the new arenas, nothing more significant than a slice of hockey's soul.
This was precisely the kind of game the Canadiens' ghosts -- a bounce, a lucky break -- would have decided in Montreal's favor 15 years ago, but instead it turned on the play of Carolina goalie Cam Ward. There have been some superb goaltending performances in the past 10 years in the new Forum, notably Mike Richter's virtuosity for Team USA in the 1996 World Cup and Jose Theodore's work for the Canadiens pretty much any time during his Hart and Vezina Trophy season of 2001-02. But Ward, who ran the table in his four starts in the series in place of the suddenly feckless Martin Gerber, played as well as any goalie has in the new Forum. His solid technical grasp of the position has been oft-noted since his junior days in Red Deer. The shock is how calm and athletic he is. His glove save on Mike Ribeiro with 12:46 remaining in the third period of a tie game left Carolina defenseman Aaron Ward turning around to check for the red light. If Ward ever develops some puckhandling skills, he could be, as the players say, sick.
Cory Stillman won the game a little more than a minute into overtime with a 55-foot shot from the left point that ticked off Montreal defenseman Craig Rivet's stick and sailed over the glove of goalie Cristobal Huet. Those were the little deflections, the tiny bounces, that used to always seem to go the Canadiens' way. Maybe the old Forum ghosts have abandoned Montreal for Raleigh. Better weather.