TORONTO (June 24) — The Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup on Tuesday night in Las Vegas. The Habs weren’t presented the trophy after their 4–1 dismantling of the Golden Knights at T–Mobile Arena.
But, trust me, they won the Cup.
I was dead–wrong with my prediction that Vegas would roll over Montreal in its semifinal clash. Just as I was dead–wrong that the Maple Leafs — after bolting to a 3–1 lead in the opening round of the playoffs — would easily finish off the Canadiens. But, I cannot be wrong about Montreal winning the 2021 Stanley Cup.
Because it already happened.
The final straw in this repeat movie was Tuesday night’s match in the desert. When the Canadiens — on paper, the weakest of the 16 playoff qualifiers — made the Golden Knights look like green vomit. When Carey Price stamped his name on the Conn Smythe Trophy. The next game of import in the National Hockey League will be the regular–season opener in October. All ensuing competition in this tournament, including the de facto Stanley Cup final, is meaningless. And, all because the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup on June 22 in Las Vegas.
The Canadiens always win the Stanley Cup when something goofy happens in the playoffs. It is pre–ordained. By whom or what, I cannot tell you. But, a higher authority is at work. As it was in 1971, when Ken Dryden came out of nowhere to stun, in the first round, the greatest club in NHL history relative to the rest of the league. The Boston Bruins of 1970–71 had no competition. They destroyed the record book with 57 wins, 121 points and 399 scores. Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr combined for 113 goals and 291 points. The Bruins lost only four of 39 regular–season games at home. Then, two out of four in the opening round, including the decisive seventh match against Dryden and the Habs, who went on to eliminate Minnesota and Chicago for a Stanley Cup that no one anticipated.
The inexplicable force came back in 1986, voodoo–ing Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers in the second round against Calgary when an outlet pass by defenseman Steve Smith, in Game 7 at the Northlands Coliseum, caromed into his own net off the back of goalie Grant Fuhr’s leg. With the betting favorite gone, the Canadiens — having survived overtime in Game 7 of the first round against Hartford — filled the void by knocking off the Flames in the Stanley Cup final. As with Dryden 15 years earlier, a rookie, Patrick Roy, prevailed in net for Montreal.
In 1993, the Maple Leafs were party to the black magic. First, however, came the hidden hand of fate when the two–time defending–champion Pittsburgh Penguins were shocked by the much–inferior New York Islanders in the second round — someone named David Volek sending Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Ron Francis into summer with an overtime tally in Game 7 at the old Civic Arena. In case you’re wondering, Pittsburgh finished a paltry 32 points ahead of the Islanders in the regular season. Up stepped Roy and the Habs, yet again, by copping 10 of their 16 playoff wins in overtime; still a Stanley Cup record for one tournament… and sure to remain so.
Throughout that spring of ’93, it appeared the Maple Leafs were destiny’s child. Likely to provide the Canadiens a stiff challenge in the championship round. Until the God of Les Glorieux interfered. Yet again.
Hell, you know the story…
The Buds, needing to score in overtime of Game 6 at Los Angeles in the semifinals, were sure to accomplish their task when Gretzky, then skating for L.A., sliced open Doug Gilmour’s chin with the blade of his stick. There were 16,005 spectators; 40 players and three game officials in the Los Angeles Forum that night. Among that group of 16,048 people, only three did not witness the Gretzky infraction. All, by sheer coincidence, were wearing striped jerseys: Fraser, the referee; linesmen Kevin Collins and Ron Finn. Gretzky, with one foot in the shower, was granted playoff clemency. And, he, of course, kept the Kings alive by flipping a rebound over Toronto goalie Felix Potvin. The Great One then demolished the Leafs, two nights later, with a hattrick in Game 7. The fickle finger of fate had tickled the Canadiens once more. After their exhaustive triumph over the Blue and White, the Kings were running on fumes. Montreal won another “did that really happen?” Stanley Cup in five games. Three in extra time.
So, really, it doesn’t matter whether the 2021 Canadiens play the New York Islanders or Tampa Bay Lightning in the series of exhibition matches that begins next week. Even if you know it’ll be the Islanders. After all, the unseen spirit of the Holy Habs has been giving the Maple Leafs double–endoscopy all spring — the Canadiens, in person, going up the back–side of Leafs Nation; the Islanders, with ageless Lou, about to venture down the throat.
Honestly? The divine intervention has been richly earned. As noted, above, it didn’t start until four years after 1967, the last time Toronto upended Montreal in anything that matters. When you think of the buffoons that have since lorded over Carlton and Bay streets — out of respect for others, Harold Ballard is the only name I’ll mention; he being the Chief Buffoon — in what realm are the Leafs entitled to constructive karma? Even today, after the indignity of the opening–round collapse against Montreal, the key figures in blue and white (Brendan Shanahan, Kyle Dubas, Mitch Marner) insist, publicly, they will change not a thing. While their fans roast on the proverbial spit. Wouldn’t you acknowledge, even begrudgingly, that the Leafs are unworthy of sublime collaboration?
It has resulted in Montreal winning the Stanley Cup — inexplicably — for the fourth time since 1967; Tuesday night, in Las Vegas, providing destiny’s dispatch. Watch the de facto Cup final, if you wish.
But, be prepared for the inevitable coronation.