It's another wistful day for Canucks fans, after Tyler Toffoli's overtime goal advanced the Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup Semifinal with a four-game sweep of the Winnipeg Jets on Monday night.
After all the hand-wringing over the late start to the playoffs for the Canadian teams, and a seven-game first-round series for the Habs and Leafs, it's pretty incredible that Montreal is now the first team to reach the final four.
Does it make all those early wins over Vancouver feel a bit less embarrassing? Considering those early successes were followed by a dip that was significant to see Claude Julien sent packing, then they had Covid issues and a condensed schedule of their own to deal with, I can get behind them as Canada's team. They're a legendary franchise and a group of lovable underdogs all rolled into one.
And I'm happy for them that they'll be able to play in their home rink for the next round, now that the NHL has had its cross-border travel exemption approved. The way I read it, it'll basically be a moving bubble around the two teams as they go back and forth.
With no conferences this year, teams are being re-seeded for the semifinals. But because Montreal had the fewest points of any playoff team, it's guaranteed that they'll face the winner of Colorado/Vegas, who finished 1-2 in the overall standings. The Canadiens actually finished 18th overall in the league standings; their 59 points were one fewer than two teams that didn't reach the postseason — the Rangers and Dallas.
Toffoli's goal on Monday is his fourth of the playoffs — tying him with teammates Joel Armia, Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. But his 10 points in 11 games lead all Canadiens players, and he's the only one so far with two game-winning goals on a club that's seemed to crown a different hero every night. Toffoli's other game-winner was his shorthanded marker in Montreal's 1-0 win in Game 2 against Winnipeg.
Monday marked his first playoff overtime goal, but he also had two game-winners in the Los Angeles Kings' run to the Cup in 2014 — in Games 4 and 5 of the first-round series against San Jose, when the Kings battled back from 0-3 to advance.
I imagine he was able to draw on that experience in the last round, as the Canadiens climbed out of their 3-1 hole against Toronto.
Speaking of incredible comebacks, what an outcome for Team Canada on Sunday, finishing off its run at the World Championship with an overtime win over Finland, the same team that beat it out for gold at the last tournament in 2019.
Troy Stecher and Canadian captain Adam Henrique were the only two returnees from the 2019 group, and Henrique admitted that he used the loss in that gold-medal game as motivation this time around.
In the end, it also looked like Gerard Gallant was the perfect coach for this group — a roster that maybe wasn't unlike the Golden Misfits that he guided so well out of the gate in Vegas.
And credit to general manager Roberto Luongo, who faced a mammoth task in assembling his roster in a year where most NHL players were disinclined to add a trip halfway around the world and yet another stretch of bubble living to what has already been a long, hard season.
Luongo's now 1-for-1 as a GM. And I daresay the win helps ease the disappointment of another first-round playoff loss in Florida, at his day job.
Luongo's also part of Canada's management group for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Doug Armstrong's in charge, as general manager. Luongo will be an assistant GM along with Ken Holland, Ron Francis and Don Sweeney.
Though it's taking longer than anyone wanted, it sounds like the official agreement to send NHLers to the Olympics is nearly complete.
At his press conference before the gold-medal game on Sunday, outgoing IIHF President Rene Fasel
said "We're very close to an agreement but we're not done yet.
"There’s a very strong wish from our side to have NHL players in Beijing because, for me personally, the Olympic tournament should be best-on-best. That's not to say that PyeongChang was not good, but I think our sport prefers to have a best-on-best tournament."
The IOC, of course, currently has its hands full trying to get everything organized for the Tokyo Summer Games, which are now just over a month away (July 23-August 8). But the NHL needs confirmation on its players' participation as soon as possible, so it can set its schedule for next year.
Canada's on a bit of a roll going in, now with gold at Men's Worlds and U18s and silver at World Juniors so far this year. And with Carey Price playing the way he is right now, maybe he's the favourite to return to the net, eight years after his dominant performance in Sochi?
Also — shout-out to Mikey DiPietro, who now has a gold from Men's Worlds to go along with his Memorial Cup championship with the Windsor Spitfires. This is DiPietro's second time at the Worlds as Canada's third goalie. What an experience this must have been for him, seeing the team come all the way back to win.
And yes, now that Luongo's GM track is officially underway, I'm now ready to entertain the idea of him coming back to take the reins in Vancouver at some point down the road. Can he fast-track himself to be ready by the time the organization is finally ready to move on from Jim Benning? I imagine the Sedins would advocate for him once they have an official voice.
And while I'm on the 2011 nostalgia train, a shout-out as well to Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Alex Burrows. He's making quick strides up the coaching ladder, on his way to Round 3 in just his third year of coaching and his first in the NHL.