"Lord won't You tell us
Tell us what does it mean
At the end of every hard earned day
People find some reason to believe"
Bruce Springsteen. Reason to Believe.
An absolute heartbreaker. It took only 7 seconds for Tyler Johnson and Victor Hedman to erase the most solid effort you could have hoped for from the Montreal Canadiens. With their backs against the wall, the Habs rallied to give an effort worthy of a victory. Montreal skated and chipped and chased and battled for over 59 minutes. Their reward was an overtime chance to claw back in this series. They never got that chance. An absolute comedy of errors ensued on Tampa's last rush and the punch line, delivered with 1.1 seconds remaining, was particularly cruel.
Fans watch sports to be moved, to escape, to live and die with each play. Last night, both the players in the bleu, blanc et rouge and their fans died a little with Johnson's last second dagger to the heart. It is the type of play that makes sport so compelling. Win or lose, it is the type of play which keeps you staring at the ceiling all night long. The play runs on repeat through your head. Each time you watch it, you pray for a different outcome. Perhaps Plekanec will dump it deep this time. Or maybe Pacioretty will poke the puck off Hedman's stick. Maybe Markov stays on his feet and blocks the pass or Subban is able to lift Johnson's stick at the last second. This time, perhaps Price squeezes his pads. But each time you watch, the play ends with the puck in the Habs net. One play. Seven seconds. A cruel twist of fate.
Going into this game and this series, there was little doubt what the Canadiens game plan entailed. They would play their usual system. Pucks would be chipped into safe places. 50/50 battles would ensue. They would win their share and win their chances. With Price providing the ultimate backbone, they would have a shot to win every tight game. In a season where they rode this style to 110 points, you had to like their odds. But in the playoffs, their bounces have dried up. The Habs have struggled to take their battles from the corner and translate them into scoring chances in prime areas.
Last night the Habs chased down pucks and won their battles. They allowed Tampa little time with the puck and few chances. Yet despite their edge in shots and chances, too many of their shots died in Bishops' chest. That is if they were able to get it past the closest Lightning defender's shinpad or stick. The Bolts put on a shot blocking clinic last night. Each time Montreal had a scoring opportunity, they watched as the Tampa defenders collapsed around Bishop. Montreal could not find the lanes to pass or shoot through their defense. They battled gamely, but the miles they skated and battled were undone by a moment's lapse in concentration.
But that is the bargain they have made. If you are willing to enter one goal games on the regular, you risk the chance that one game you will be burnt. Like a soaring Icarus, last night and in game 1, the Habs rode too close to the sun. Their wings were torched and after a season of triumph against the odds, they now find themselves in an earthbound freefall .
The heartbreaking part of last night's game was to hear this from Brendan Gallagher, “We know if we don’t win the next game it will be our last hockey game as a group. We’ve enjoyed playing together, we love coming to the rink every day. Our motivation is going to be trying to get 60 more minutes together”.
This Habs squad loves to play together and for each other. You could not argue with their effort or their passion all season long. They continually willed themselves to summits greater than the sum of their parts. Their task is to win 4 straight against a team that has now beaten them 8 times in a row. But their mindset is simply to earn 60 more minutes together. One more chance to suit up, to battle , to play for the guy sitting next to you.
We watch sports for many reasons. We watch to be moved, to escape, to live and die with every play. Tonight we watch a team that simply asks for one more night together. Sports is fleeting. Money, age and business pull teams apart very quickly. To catch a team that genuinely cares about each other is rare. Look no further than the team we saw in Toronto this season, to see the ills in professional sports.
Tonight, this edition of Les Canadiens will battle to earn the chance to play another 60 minutes. Win or lose, it has been a privilege to watch them.