Hayden Panettiere licks Lord Stanley's... mug.
Oh, to be young again, when this time of year Montrealers would watch as Ste. Catherine street was cleaned and prepped for the annual Stanley Cup parade. You know, how then Mayor Drapeau put it, along the "usual route."
We took it for granted back then. Still a little boy, I was just happy that Montreal, the city I was born and bred in, was a winning town. We're winners in Montreal and I liked that. And it was only a matter of time that winning attitude would bring a World Series for the Expos. But that's another story.
So when the Habs went through their first Stanley Cup drought from '80 - '85, while the Islanders and Oilers got in on the party, it seemed like they hadn't won the cup in a very long time.
Then in '93 when Jacques Demers' Canadiens hoisted the cup, it was like "Wow, took long enough!"
Now, it's been 18 seasons since our last cup. 18 seasons!!! Just to put that into perspective, if in 1979 the Habs had won their first cup in 18 seasons, that would have meant their last one would have been in 1961!!! Thank goodness that wasn't the case.
Of course, 18 seasons pales into comparison against our 1st round opponents the Boston Bruins (39 years) and the current NHL leaders in this area, the Toronto Maples Leafs (44 years).
The Hawks finally got the monkey off of their backs last season after not winning the cup since 1961. Maybe the Bruins will do the same this season!?
I think not.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, is picking the Habs to beat the Bruins. Watching the tv pundits, reading the sports pages, I have yet to see anyone outside of Montreal pick the Habs to win.
Even though the consensus pick is the Bruins, I couldn't help but observe a slight hesitation, a slight tremble, a slight awkwardness in this choice from these same pundits. Sure, on paper the Bruins are the better team. Sure the Bruins finished ahead of the Habs. Sure the Bruins score more goals. Sure the Bruins bullied the Habs in two of their last three regular season games. Sure the Bruins are bigger and maybe hungrier after last year's epic playoff collapse.
Yes, it's the "but" that all hockey pundits have to consider when the Habs play in the playoffs, especially against the Bruins. Even though the hockey pundits were signing off on this prediction, you could tell they didn't want to. Not because of any Hab allegiance but because they know better. Of all NHL teams, it's the Habs who are capable of the magical run all the way to the promised land. It's the Habs who pull off epic playoff upsets. It's the Habs who have beat Boston in 24 of 32 playoff series.
And it's the hockey gods, who although want the best for all NHL teams, and wish them all well, ultimately punish the brutish, big bad Boston Bruins, who can't seem to get it through their heads that skill always beats braun, no matter the era.
That's why Harry Sinden's Bobby Orr - era Bruins won the cup, while the Don Cherry Bruins lost in more ways imaginable, and always vs. the Habs.
Okay, that's today's history lesson. And if history tells us correctly, the Habs will win. Here are my predictions for the 1st round of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs:
Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins
An instant classic as they've all been, safe for the last time these two teams met in the playoffs, which saw Boston blank the Habs 4-0. Not just because the Bruins won, but because it didn't have the usual drama we're used to seeing. The Bruins wins in the '80's against the Habs were much more entertaining affairs. Anyhow, the bigger Bruins need to stay disciplined and dominate the space on the ice. Thomas will be Thomas. But the Habs have confidence against this team, and have karma on their side. And if they win the special teams, they're going to win.
Habs Fan in LeafLand: Montreal in 6
New York Rangers vs. Washington Capitals
Folks make a big deal out of Henrik Lundqvist being the wildcard here. While the Rangers have the advantage in between the pipes, Lundqvist is completely beatable and the Caps' sharpshooters will take full advantage. Plus the Rangers have trouble scoring.
Habs Fan in LeafLand: Washington in 5
Buffalo Sabres vs. Philadelphia Flyers
If Philly plays as if this is a done deal, they should be very worried. The Sabres have been one of the better teams in the NHL since the All-Star break and have the advantage in goal. Philly's goaltending is, as usual, their achilles heel. And Crissy Pronger is coming off an injury without any games to get back up to speed. But I think the Flyers' scoring depth will ultimately prevail.
Habs Fan in LeafLand: Flyers in 6
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher has done a great job with this team, not only getting them into the playoffs but into the 5th spot in the conference. He deserves serious consideration for the Jack Adams. But so does Pens coach Dan Byslma, navigating his team without his top 2 stars in Crosby and Malkin. Stamkos had a great year, but cooled off significantly down the stretch. The Pens have the advantage in nets with Fleury. I just can't see the Pens losing.
Habs Fan in LeafLand: Pens in 7
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. ????
Oh yeah, the Leafs are golfing :)
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Vancouver Canucks
They'd be lying if they weren't worried. The Canucks that is. All the pressure is on them to win it all after the year they had. But the path goes straight through their nemesis of recent years, the Blackhawks who knocked them out in 2 straight years. True, the Hawks lost a few key components to last year's cup-winning team in Ladd and Byfuglien, and their star dmen haven't exactly been playing their best hockey. Crawford in nets is unproven and they're having trouble scoring goals. That said, the Canucks choke year after year and although their star players have had terrific seasons, is this team any different than last year's edition?? I'd like to see a Canadian team win, but I'm tired of the Canucks disappointing me. I think the Hawks are going to pull this one out and be the dragonslayer.
Habs Fan in LeafLand: Hawks in 7
Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks
Will it be the "no-show Joe" show once again? Boring rerun means the Sharks go down. But if they pull that show from the schedule and instead broadcast the "Logan Couture Clutch Hour" they may just pull it out. And they have a confident goalie in Niemi who won it all in Chicago last year. The Kings lost Kopitar, Penner's been rivaling Joe Thornton's no-show status and they've played poorly down the stretch.
Habs Fan in LeafLand: Sharks in 4
Phoenix Coyotes vs. Detroit Red Wings
Red Wings are the perennial favourites, but they're limping in. Goalie Jimmy Howard is not 100% and Zetterberg is not starting the series due to an injury. And the 'Yotes have the revenge factor from last year where they took the Wings to 7 only to lose big at home.
Habs Fan in LeafLand: Coyotes in 7
Nashville Predators vs. Anaheim Ducks
If Hiller were healthy, I'd be out of the gate for the Ducks. They have veteran leadership and scoring depth. Corey Perry was untouchable since the All-Star break and is extremely dangerous. Toss in Selanne, Ryan and Getzlaf and you have a solid team that should win. But don't count out the Preds. They are always sneaky (but boring) good. Goalie Rinne has been solid. Still I think this depends on Anaheim's goaltending. If Hiller can't go or isn't up to form, can Emery/Ellis fill the bill? Tough call.
Habs Fan in LeafLand: Ducks in 7