The Age of (Montreal) Miracles Hasn’t Passed

Montreal Canadiens advance to the NHL Playoff Semifinals. Islanders take a 3-2 series lead back to Uniondale. Winnipeg fallout begins. Bolts can advance tonight.

Miracle or not?

Think about this for five seconds:

If someone had told you -- when Toronto had a three games to one lead over Montreal -- that the Habs would beat the Leafs and then sweep Winnipeg in four, what would say the odds would be?

A thousand to one? Million to one? Or simply call it "a  miracle" and leave it at that.

This much is certain; it's happened; yes, and confirmed by Tyler Tofolli's overtime goal, clinching Montreal's 3-2 brooming of the Jets right out to the golf course.

As a sidebar to the miracle, nobody would have imagined that the other pair of Habs red lights would belong to Erik Gustafsson -- not even on the opening season depth chart -- and third string left wing Arturi Lehkonen.

More to the point, this confirms the sagacity of g.m. Marc Bergevin. All season he'd been mauled by the Montreal media and has come up roses. 

Toffoli has been a brilliant addition and the coaching change that moved Dom Ducharme being the bench replacing Claude Julien did more than anyone -- me included --expected.

Let's not forget that, after taking Philly to six games in the last playoffs, Bergevin began rebuilding his team around young centers Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

He added wingers Josh Anderson -- in a trade with Columbus for disappointing Max Domi -- and Toffoli. The g.m. also added large defenseman Joel Edmundson and backup goalie Jake Allen.

Here's one other reason why Bergevin rates a contract extension and Ducharme must have the "interim" deleted from his head coaching title:

Until this spring, the proud Canadien franchise had not won a playoff series since 2015. It was the Habs longest post-season dry spell in 80 years.

To sum up Montreal's success so far, only one word will do: incroyable!

And if you're wondering how this all has been happening, check out Gus Vic's X-Ray below:


HEADLINE: THE CANADIENS SECRET REVEALED

THE JIVE: There's a reason why the Habs are where they are and you won't find it in crystal balls or ouija boards. But you will find it here, thanks to my resident genius, Gus Vic. He has analysed the Canadiens inside-out and outside in; and here are his superior insights.

"The Habs success aligns with the fact that they never trailed during their winning streak," Vic notes. "This enabled Montreal to remove center ice and flow for their offensively dynamic foe. Also, they enforced a solid forecheck. And when all else failed, the defense has been exceptional, collapsing back on Carey Price while cutting off shooting and passing lanes."

"The Canadiens have been opportunistic with the puck and the mileage they're getting out of Corey Perry and Eric Staal is jaw-dropping; and full marks to both of them.”


HEADLINE: THE ISLANDERS ARE MAKING A STATEMENT

THE JIVE: A few well-chosen words that begin with the letter "D" explain why coach Barry Trotz's team now leads Boston three games to two.

Determined. Dauntless. Delightful. Deceptive. Dangerous. 

Take your pick but those five little words help explain the Isles 5-4 win over the Big, Bad Bruins in Beantown last night.

Before the season's first puck drop, the Nassaumen were pegged to finish 17th in the National Hockey League. Meanwhile, the Bruins were rated fourth-best overall, behind Colorardo, Tampa Bay and Vegas.

Tomorrow night in Uniondale, the Isles can push Boston out of the series. Which makes one wonder if Nassau Veterans' Memorial Coliseum will remain upright as thunderous roars will make the Richter Scale nervous.

Of course the Bruins will have something to say about this series which many predicted could go the full seven games. 

Meanwhile there was a lot to like about the decision at TD Garden. My younger son, Simon, who studies the Isles as closely as Sir Trotz, came up with this observation about last night's victory.

"The boys even survived the Dreaded Three-Goal lead."

That they did but, as Simon also says, "They withstood the storm -- also known as 'Push' at the end. Thank Semyon Varlamov for that."

The home club hurled lots of shots at Varly while B's coach Bruce Cassidy gave Tuukka Rask the hook after the second period.

What cannot be questioned was that New York's power play -- three out of four -- was decisive and that the Isles made the most of their shots. And when the going got toughest in the third period, Trotz called a time-out."

"That was important," said Mathew Barzal who was strong again with a goal and an assist. "It gave us a needed deep breath." 

No question the Bruins had established a beachhead but never were able to secure that necessary tying goal. Post-game, Trotz got a chuckle telling his inspiration for the time-out.

"At times," he said, "we were like a duck on water; our feet were moving like crazy. But we were able to stabilize and found a way in a tough environment to get it done."

Nobody is counting out the Bruins whose Perfection Line once again was a  three-period threat.

"I thought we were the better team," said Cassidy. "We'll be ready to go."

A key question he'll have to resolve for Game Six will be Boston's starting goaltender. Cassidy hinted that Rask "was not 100 percent."

He may gamble with Jeremy Swayman who has been sensational in the past. Varlamov figures to start for the Isles who once again were like the tree branch in a hurricane; they bent but didn't break.

"We have a veteran group," Trotz concluded, "and they play for each other."

Yeah. They're determined, dauntless, deceptive, delightful and dangerous.

And that's why The Old Barn will rock tomorrow!


HEADLINE: HEADS WILL ROLL IN WINNIPEG

THE JIVE: The Jets unconscionable loss to Montreal will result in significant movement on the part of g.m. Kevin Cheveldayoff. It says here that veteran coach Paul Maurice will survive mostly because of the sweeping of Edmonton. A huge question mark will be Pierre-Luc Dubois who never lived up to expectations and who happened to be on the ice when Tyler Tofolli scored the winner.

Without a doubt, the club surely would have done better had Mark Scheifele not been suspended through the finale. Trading Mark would be too severe a punishment after all the player and team have suffered. One simple way Chevvy can view it is by playing the Cole Porter classic, "Just One Of Those Things!"


HEADLINE: A BIG TEST FOR TAMPA BAY

THE JIVE: From time to time the Lightning has looked like a defending champion, albeit something less than a juggernaut. A once-and-for-all wipe out of the gritty Hurricanes tonight would establish a bit more confidence in the town of Tampa Bay  Otherwise: uh, oh!


TRIVIA CORNER: Has a team ever won or tied every game on home ice in one season? (Answer below:)


CLEVER COMMENTS FROM YESTERYEAR: "What a surprise I received. They don't usually include rookies in these big trades."

--Cy Thomas on being included in one of hockey greatest deals, November 1947. Thomas came to the Maple Leafs along with superstar center Max Bentley. In exchange Chicago received Gus Bodnar, Bud Poile, Gaye Stewart, Ernie Dickens and Bob Goldham. Thomas didn't last long but Bentley won three Cups as a Leaf. 


TRIVIA ANSWER: In 1929-30 the Bruins won all 22 of their home games. In 1943-44, the Canadiens won or tied all of their home games on their way to the Cup.