When the NHL playoffs begin this week the Montreal Canadiens will be the only team from Canada who will still be playing hockey. There are seven National Hockey League teams in Canada, where hockey was conceived, and only one of them played well enough in 2014 to make the NHL playoffs.
If the gods of hockey were ever given an edict to pick one, and only one, team from Canada to be in the NHL playoffs, they would probably choose the Montreal Canadiens. The French-Canadian team has other nicknames in their native language: Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge, La Sainte-Flanelle, Le Tricolore, Les Glorieux or Les Habitants. In the world of sports brevity they are simply know as the Habs.
Founded in 1909 by J. Ambrose O’Brien, the Habs were one of the original six of the National Hockey League which began in 1942. The Montreal Canadiens are the New York Yankees of hockey, winning the Stanley Cup more than any team in history–24 times–and reaching the Stanley Cup finals 35 times. Les Habitants have reached the NHL playoffs 93 times in their storied history. When the Canadiens beat the Florida Panthers in 2008 they became the first NHL team to win 3000 games.
Some of the players who have donned the blue, white and red of the Canadiens read like a who’s who of hockey. Led by names like Jean Beliveau, Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, Doug Harvey and the Plante brothers, Jacques and Henri, the Habs won a record five straight Stanley Cup Championships from 1956-1960. With legends like Pete Mahovlich, Jacques Lemaire, Guy Lafleur, Yvan Cournoyer and Ken Dryden, they captured 10 championships from 1965-1979. Those teams also boasted Pierre Larouche, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe and Coach Scotty Bowman, who would later become the all-time winningest coach in the National Hockey League.
The Montreal Canadiens last won the Stanley Cup in 1993, led in goal by all-world Patrick Roy. Some would say the Habs have enjoyed much success since then, reaching the NHL playoffs 13 times since their championship year. With their storied history, however, success for the Canadiens is measured in Stanley Cups. For that reason, the past two decades have not been kind to the Habs. For hockey’s proudest franchise, it is not enough that they will be there and the other Canadian teams, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Edmonton, will miss out. Losing in the playoffs is like not making the playoffs at all.
Names like Tony Esposito, Jacques Laperriere, Jack Laviolette and Henri Richard have given way to the new Habitants; Carey Price, Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban, Brendan Gallagher, David Desharnais and Thomas Plekanec. They are all players who are good enough to play in the National Hockey League and now good enough to play for the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL playoffs. They understand that 21 years is too long for this proud organization to go without the trophy named after Lord Stanley. Like the players who wear the pinstripes of the New York Yankees, they recognize that they are expected to play at a higher level when they don the sweaters of Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky