Disclaimer: I know there are Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs fans reading this but hear me out!
For the first time in the history of the NHL all seven of the Canadian teams were put into one division due to COVID-19 restrictions. This meant that the Canadian teams out west in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Edmonton joined that of Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa to form the North Division.
The North was one of four other divisions formed for this shortened season. The top four teams in each division qualified for the playoffs, with the first two rounds centering on the top seed facing off against the lowest seed and the number two seed facing off against the number third seed. This meant that at least one Canadian team would qualify for the Stanley Cup Semi-Finals. In a season that was marred by a condensed schedule of 56 games, as well as a few COVID scares – especially that of the Vancouver Canucks, the four teams that qualified for the playoffs in the North Division in order were the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, and the Montreal Canadiens.
Shockingly, the Winnipeg Jets swept the Edmonton Oilers in four games. Not to be outdone, Montreal Canadiens rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win in Game 7 in Toronto to complete their incredible comeback. The Jets and the Canadiens had never met in the playoffs before, and for the sixth time in NHL history a team coming off a sweep of their own ended up getting swept in the next round. The Canadiens literally dominated the play from Game 1 and took care of Winnipeg easily in four games. Obviously, the loss of Mark Scheifele was too much for the Jets to overcome; he was suspended for his actions at the end of Game 1 in which he laid a dirty and cheap hit on Montreal forward Jake Evans. Scheifele was suspended for four games and with the Canadiens winning the next three games, he never got to see the ice again.
So, for a Canadiens team that backed into the playoffs losing their last five regular season games, they’ve now won seven straight games and are heading into the third round of the NHL playoffs. Even more impressive, the Canadiens have not trailed for one second during any of those games. Historically, they are only behind the Canadiens team of 1960 for the longest stretch without playing behind in a game. This is a 2021 squad that had legitimate problems putting together a winning streak throughout the regular season, but since the start of Game 5 against Toronto, have not trailed for an impressive 437:53 minutes of hockey.
The Canadiens’ next opponent will be the winner of the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights series.
Which brings me to the crux of this article. If you live in Canada, how could you not jump on the bandwagon of the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge? Not only would it be fitting to see veterans in Carey Price and Shea Weber win their first Stanley Cup, but they are the only Canadian team remaining and that should be enough in itself. I understand certain loyalists of other franchises have their minds set on despising the logo on the front of the jersey, but how can you not love what a young Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Cole Caufield are doing? Or that one-time Cup winners Corey Perry and Eric Staal are playing some of their most inspired and best hockey knowing that this might be their final chance at sipping from Lord Stanley’s mug. The Canadiens seem to have the perfect blend of proven veterans and young budding players at just the right time.
I know there will be diehard fans of the other six Canadian teams that will never jump ship, however, the last team from Canada to win a Stanley Cup was Montreal back in 1993. Since then, we have seen the Flames in 2004, the Oilers in 2006, the Senators in 2007 and most recently the Canucks in 2011 all reach the Cup finals, only to come up achingly short.
Montreal is four wins from qualifying for the dance, and while most people would tell you that their “cinderella run” should come to an end in the next series, anything is possible once you’ve reached this stage. The Habs are a group that right now are as tight-knit as ever, and most importantly they are playing their best hockey all year. That’s the amazing thing about sports; you don’t always have to be the best team on paper, it’s just a matter of getting hot at just the right time – which is exactly what this team has done.
I think back to the 2012 Los Angeles Kings team that finished in eighth place in the Western Conference only to go on and win their franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup. This is the Canadiens’ third time in the Conference Finals since 2010. Having lost in 2010 in five games to the Philadelphia Flyers and in 2014 against the New York Rangers in six games. Hopefully this time they can move one step further.
If you are a fan of hockey and enjoy a juicy underdog story like Rudy or Rocky then you should unequivocally have no hesitation but to jump on this bandwagon and enjoy what the Canadiens are doing right now. They are the final Canadian team remaining, and to this I say the quest for 25 remains alive and is worth following by an entire nation!