Let’s put the whole underdog thing to rest. The Canadiens not only earned the right to face the Penguins, they are making the most of their opportunity. A full 18 periods later, it will all come down to one final game to see who will live to fight another day.
One victory from slaying another NHL dragon in the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Canadiens have every reason to wonder why there are still any non-believers out there. Accustomed to being overlooked and sold short, Jaroslav Halak is especially intrigued by those still scratching their heads about his team’s hijacking of the 2010 Playoffs.
“We didn’t give up when we were down 3-1 to the Capitals, so why would we give up when we were down 3-2 to these guys?” shrugged Halak. “We know we have a team here and we’re proving that to everyone now.”
That’s putting it mildly. The Habs have gone from cuddly underdogs to ferocious pit bulls not satisfied with just being on the same rink as their touted opposition. It’s a familiar script that Jaroslav Spacek has already read for a part in.
“Anything is possible in the playoffs. I mean I did with the Oilers in 2006 and it was the same thing: no one gave us a chance and we just kept beating teams one by one. You just have to believe in each other and go for it,” recalled Spacek who made a triumphant return from a nine game absence on Monday night.
“I just wanted to be back and I wasn’t about to put any extra pressure on myself. The first period was a little rough – I did miss three weeks of action – but I did feel better as the game went on,” explained Spacek who looked a little more than “better” after scoring the go-ahead goal to put the Habs up 3-2.
“You bet I was excited, that’s what happens when you don’t score for 50 games,” said Spacek, before giving his take on the deafening Bell Centre crowd. “Was it loud? I’m not even sure if my ears can handle it!”
The Habs player most to blame for the decibel busting sound levels at the Bell Centre in these playoffs, Michael Cammalleri isn’t about to complain about the love he’s been getting on his way to notching an NHL-leading 11 postseason goals.
The spring hasn’t always been a cake walk for Cammalleri. After failing to reach the playoffs in his first five NHL seasons, he finally earned his first postseason stripes last year with the Flames.
“Things didn’t go that well in my first five or six years in the league,” admitted Cammalleri, who also saw his first playoffs end in an abrupt six-game loss to the Blackhawks last year. “When we got back into the room after we won Game 7 in Washington, Gomer said to me ‘Welcome to the second round, Cammy’.”
The only two-time Stanley Cup winner in the Habs’ dressing room knows how tailor-made Cammalleri is for springtime success.
“We were all ribbing him before the playoffs, mocking his playoff pedigree. But he’s a ‘gamer’. That’s why Montreal went out and got him this summer,” admitted Gomez. “The playoffs might be new for him, but he’s been awesome. You just have to get him the puck and he’ll score.”
As easy as that sounds, what follows a Cammalleri goal in Montreal is just as automatic these days.
“I really appreciate the way the fans are cheering for me,” said Cammalleri. “What else can I say but ‘Merci beaucoup’?”
Cammy's new legion of fans feel the same way about him signing on the dotted last July.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com.
The Numbers Game - May 10, 2010