It’s Habs’ Year, Leafs Nation

(BUT, NOT TODAY)

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (May 17) – The 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs haven’t gone over particularly well here in the Big Smoke; not nearly as well, for example, as the Calder Cup tournament, where Toronto Marlies are poised to take on Texas or Grand Rapids in the Western Conference final. While kudos are in order for Steve Spott and his imposing team – and despite the Maple Leafs infinite mediocrity – this is not a minor league hockey town.

As such, it must be terribly difficult for shinny followers around here to remove hands from eyes and even peek at the television. That team in red, blue and white keeps popping into view; keeps winning, and will now face off against ol’ King Henrik for a berth in the Stanley Cup final. It’s kind of like 2010, when Jaroslav Halak, Mike Cammalleri and Co. roared back from a 3-1 series deficit against Washington; upset Pittsburgh in seven (winning the last game at old Mellon Arena) and clashed with Philadelphia for the Eastern crown. Finally, the gas tank emptied and Montreal didn’t score a goal in three of five games against the Flyers, who went on to lose the championship series to Chicago.

The Blackhawks will make yet another appearance in the Cup final this year but not against Boston, as so many (myself included) took for granted. Instead, Chicago will encounter the Montreal behemoth in another pre-expansion quarrel – the first Cup clash between the Habs and ‘Hawks in 41 years. My gosh, can it really be that long since Ken Dryden out-dueled Tony Esposito for the 1973 title, providing Scotty Bowman the first of his nine Stanley Cup rings? Life passes in the blink of an eye but some things tend to recur – even after a lengthy pause.

Montreal raising the Stanley Cup is one of them.

Following a 21-year drought, it will happen again this spring.

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LOOK FOR THIS SCENE – SANS PATRICK ROY – TO BE REPEATED FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 21 YEARS. IF YOU LIVE HERE IN TORONTO, DON’T LOOK.

Of course, my prediction of a Chicago-Montreal Cup final is sufficient reason for you to go with New York and Los Angeles. Such is my shoddy record (5-and-7) so far in the 2014 playoffs. And, I have repeatedly expected the Rangers to lose – first against Philadelphia and then against Pittsburgh. Might the New Yorkers celebrate the 20th anniversary of their last title with another? Pretty tough to wager against Henrik Lundqvist, the way he’s playing. Neither can the L.A. Kings be discounted, though I’m thinking that consecutive seven-game series – and the energy-drain of having to roar back from 3-0 down against San Jose – precludes an upset of Chicago.

In the end, I keep coming around to the same conclusion: This is the year of Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens.

Finally.

And, deservedly so.

CONFERENCE FINAL PREDICTIONS

EAST

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How does one choose between Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist? There is no logical answer beyond a gut feeling and the potential for New York to have difficulty with Montreal’s speed and relentless attack.

CANADIENS in 6.

WEST

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One word to the wise: The Blackhawks had better not tempt fate by going the distance with Los Angeles. No road team in recent Stanley Cup history is as proficient as the Kings in deciding games.

CHICAGO in 6.

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CANADIENS AND BLACKHAWKS CLASH IN THE 1965 STANLEY CUP FINAL AT THE OLD MONTREAL FORUM. HABS PLAYERS ARE J.C. TREMBLAY AND GOALIE GUMP WORSLEY. ‘HAWKS ARE DOUG MOHNS AND KEN WHARRAM (17). MONTREAL PREVAILED IN SEVEN GAMES AND WON THE CUP THREE MORE TIMES IN THE NEXT FOUR YEARS.

48 YEARS AGO

CONTINUING MY SERIES ON NHL PAGES-OF-THE-PAST, HERE ARE IMAGES FROM THE MAY 1966 EDITION OF HOCKEY WORLD MAGAZINE. CANADIENS WERE VYING TO DEFEND THEIR STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONSHIP, WHICH THEY DID AGAINST DETROIT IN SIX GAMES.

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JEAN BELIVEAU (CAPTAIN) AND CLAUDE PROVOST ON COVER.

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JOHN BOWIE FERGUSON BEING INTERVIEWED.

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GEORGE ARMSTRONG WITH 1962 STANLEY CUP AT CHICAGO STADIUM.

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THE RICHARD BROTHERS – HENRI (LEFT) AND MAURICE.

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DURING MY CAREER, I’VE HAD THE PRIVILEGE OF INTERVIEWING FIVE MEMBERS OF THE FIRST MAPLE LEAFS STANLEY CUP TEAM (ABOVE) – CONN SMYTHE, ACE BAILY, KING CLANCY, RED HORNER AND JOE PRIMEAU. ALL HAVE SINCE PASSED AWAY.

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ADVERTISEMENT ON BACK COVER OF MAGAZINE.

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