The Magic of Montreal is in the Goaltending

The Habs return to Montreal with home ice advantage. Can a crowd influence a game? Brind'Amour back with the Canes.

As Cinderella playoff stories go, the Montreal Canadiens are threatening to top the best of them all.

That would be the Vegas Golden Knights march to the Stanley Cup Final in the club's maiden season.

Obviously, we're talking about two entirely different situations; different time, different teams, different venues.

That said, the focus is on the now and the mere fact that the Habs still are alive and in the semi-finals would be enough to qualify for a Cinderella prize.

But what the Duke Ducharme has pulled off since he was thrust into the head-coaching gig 'way back when, makes the Habs saga even more amazing; or should I say "astonishing?"

Let's face it Monsieur Ducharme did not have the hockey club soaring after he replaced the ousted Claude Julien. 

The Habs were in and out and upside down. Things were so topsy turvy that, at times, back up Jake Allen looked like a better goalie than Mister Best, Carey Price.

And how can we forget the fuss over whether the University of Wisconsin whiz-kid, Cole Caufield should even be promoted from the AHL to the big club. (Well, that question was answered, wasn't it!)

Then, you had the Montreal media skewering general manager Marc Bergevin every other week. Naturally, the gripe was that Bergy might not have have a playoff team, let alone a Cup contender.

Which brings us to the now and the fact that at least one key question -- Can the Habs even win one game against mighty Vegas? -- has  affirmatively been answered.

I'm not here to tell you that that Canadiens will win tonight or eventually march into The Final round. Nay; I won't tread on that thin ice.

But the one obvious factor in The Upstarts favor is that the Habs have the best goalie and Carey Price is priceless.

And he's hot.

The other side has an Ancient Mariner who has not only been playing over his head but Marc-Andre Fleury is playing under his age.

Ah, but our ever eagle-eyed Gus Vic points out, "How come nobody wrote about Fleury's misguided Hail Mary failed poke check that enabled Paul Byron to score what became the winning goal?"

I guess, Gus, that the press is giving Methuselah a Senior Citizen's pass. Which means one thing when it comes to goaltending in this series: 

Advantage: Canadiens.

Whether the Habs turn pumpkin or not this week -- or next -- we owe them a Thank-You-Very-Much for maintaining a wonderful tradition.

Cinderella is alive and well on Ste.Catherine Street West!

Stan’s Java Jive


THE JIVE: It's impossible to determine the effect crowd noise has on the outcome of a game. A good barometer is Nassau Veterans' Memorial Coliseum where the decibel counts have gone through the roof and into outer space. Last night, for example, the pre-game noise quality hoped to inspire the home club to run The Champs out of the rink. But it didn't work.

The Bolts scored first and literally took the crowd of the game. Tampa Bay owned the puck and the rare Islanders chance went for naught.

All things considered, coach Barry Trotz sextet was fortunate to exit the opening period trailing only 1-0. If there was to be a change the Isles would have to ignite the fans by taking charge of the ice.

They did, rallying to tie and then blow their chance when an unnecessary Adam Pelech penalty put them behind the eight-ball. He escaped the sin bin in time but the Bolts had scrambled the net and got the go-ahead goal before Pelech could make a difference.

Talk about deflating the crowd. Oy, vey! At least there was another 20 minutes to inflate them again.

The Old Barn rocked in the third period but never for the best of reasons. Tampa prevailed 2-1. 

P.S. If there's any solace for the folks in Nassau it was that NBC panelist -- and former NHL coach -- Mike Babcock straight out said that the penalty call on Pelech was a bad call. But Pelech put himself in a bad position and that's that. Nothing the passionate crowd could do about it except; wait 'til next game!


THE JIVE: Tough call but I go with Lou and not because he's a friend of mine. Bergevin almost had an edge because he laughs harder at my jokes and Zito is a story in himself; agent to winning g.m. Good, good ones!'


THE JIVE: This was a deal Carolina general manager Don Waddell could not refuse. Brind'Amour, 50, ranks among the best coaches in Canes history. "He was responsible for the culture change that has lifted our franchise," says Waddell. That's as accurate a statement as ever been made by an NHL boss who has to sign contracts; and the three-year deal is about as good as the Canes coach should -- and could -- get. 

Make no mistake, the pact was not as easy to come by as the team's press release. Rod knew he was being sought by other teams, plus, he insisted that his support staff be re-hired with him. Meanwhile, Seattle was beckoning with old buddy Ron Francis ready to shell out big dough for the Kraken's launch season.

What's so good about Brind'Amour? He's tough, demanding but fair. Call him a "player's coach," if you will and you won't be far from the mark. And speaking of "mark," this guy's won-loss mark is in the superior category, not to mention Carolina's elite-level play during the regular season. True, he couldn't beat the Champ Lightning in the playoffs but management chose not to hold that against him.

Just for toppers, he won the Jack Adams Award as coach-of-the-year.

Can't beat them apples!


THE JIVE: The NHL Players' Association produces an off-the-wall poll of its members every year and the latest has some neat choices. Take a gander:

David Pastrnak's tape job was voted the most unique, receiving 42.32% of the vote, with Ottawa Senators rookie Tim Stützle garnering 19.15%.

Pastrnak received the second most votes for most fashionable player, trailing only Auston Matthews, who received 21.16% of the votes.

Sidney Crosby received 27.35% of the votes for most superstitious player, 22.36% more than the second place finisher, Michael Frolik. Crosby's pregame superstitions are well known, so it is no surprise he lapped the field in this category.

In terms of on-ice polls, Matthews was voted best goal-scorer, Victor Hedman best defenseman, Andrei Vasilevskiy best goalie, Crosby and Bergeron tied for most complete player, Ovechkin best shot, and Nicklas Backstrom best passer. 

Connor McDavid was the most popular choice for the players who were asked what player they would take in a must-win game. Patrick Kane was voted best stick-handler, receiving over 20% more votes than the aforementioned McDavid.


THE JIVE: Why are the Tampa Bay Lightning defending cup champs looking to repeat? Our Coby Maeir has the answer.

It’s an easy one. Former g.m Steve Yzerman and current g.m. Julien BriseBois have established a culture where players take less money. Following a 2018-19 campaign in which he scored 41 goals and 92 points, Brayden Point was an RFA. He agreed to a three-year deal worth $6.75M per year. Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner, who was also an RFA in the summer of 2019, signed for six years and $10.903M per year. Marner is a great player, but he is not better than Brayden Point, let alone $4M per year better. 

Since signing that deal, Point has scored 25 goals and 48 points in his last 37 playoff games, including the game-winner in last night’s Game Three victory over the Islanders to take a 2-1 series lead.

Point followed the lead of his superstar teammates, Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman. Stamkos signed for eight years at $8.8M per in the summer of 2016, the same summer they signed Hedman for eight years at $7.875M per. Kucherov is in the second year of an eight-year deal at $9.5M per. All those contracts are well below market value and have allowed Tampa to sign key players like Alex Killorn for $4.5M per, Ondrej Palat for $5.3M per, Yanni Gourde at $5.16M, and Anthony Cirelli at $4.8M per.

That’s just the forwards, though. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh is at $6.75M per, fellow blueliner Mikhail Sergachev is at $4.8M per, and netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy is at $9.5M per.

Yes, putting Kucherov on LTIR all season to free up $9.5M helped this season, but there is a clear recipe to Tampa’s success. This recipe has a great chance of producing a back-to-back Stanley Cup champion.


THE JIVE: Brad Larsen's dues-paying finally has paid off. After seven years as a Blue Jackets assistant coach, the new man in Columbus has a tough act -- His Eminence Torts -- to follow. With that in mind,

 Larsen is virtually guaranteeing that he'll not be aping his predecessor. "One of the things I learned," Larsen explains, "is to be my own man. I'm not Torts."

Well, that's a good thing. The fair state of Ohio has had its fill of John's act and, mind you, it's been one of the best in decades because you never knew which hockey journalist he'd bawl out next. No question, Torts is in position to grab a tv job unless he wants another coaching challenge. And if that's the case, a gig or two still is available, either in Seattle or Buffalo. Guaranteed that The Mouth That Roared would be a welcome headliner in either burgh. 

As for Larsen, he'll bring some of his former boss' learning with him, as well as fresh ideas. Hey, Brad won't be the problem but his apparently thinning roster will be; especially if Seth Jones says "Good-bye, Columbus."

TRIVIA CORNER: Where did the original Philadelphia team -- the Quakers -- play their home games? (Answer below.)


"I didn't play in the NHL because I wanted to walk away a winner!"

-- 1980 Gold Medal U.S. Olympic team captain Mike Eruzione.

TRIVIA ANSWER: No, the Quakers never played at The Spectrum. The original Philly squad played at a 6,000 seat rink called the Arena.