The Montreal Canadiens are closer to the Stanley Cup Finals this year than they have been in many years. There is an entire generation that has never seen the Cup in Montreal, or even the kind of exuberance that comes from playoff victories, but are now immersed in that very mood.
On the eve of their second elimination game this round, the Habs are in New York City, ready to show the New York Rangers the same kind of focus and energy they showed in Game 5. Habs fans believe in this team. They have experienced ups and downs, and this round has been filled with intense rivalry, due to suspensions and injuries, but as the team continues to press on, so do fans.
Anyone who has ever experienced Montreal during playoffs understands how the post-season excitement affects the city. Habs flags fly from cars, trucks, buildings and even schools. As the rounds go longer and the team moves on, one can see more and more Habs jerseys, caps, tee shirts, and even dog apparel sprouting up in neighborhoods across the island.
Radio shows, sports-related or not, talk about hockey all day, every day; analysts have much to discuss and continue to do their jobs as though it is still mid-Winter, albeit with an excitement, an anticipation, a hopefulness that overwhelms their analyses.
Social media buzzes with the excitement of possibility, photos and “selfies” of all ages in full regalia, the “CH” proudly painted on cheeks, nails, limbs.
Stories of past victories – whether they were Stanley Cup wins, or playoff runs – abound. The names of Canadiens “greats” are invoked as talisman forces, upon which to draw strength and luck.
The players and coaches remain focused on the task at hand, as they should. But I have to believe that they feel the energy they are creating, perhaps from another perspective, and that it adds to the motivation they use in their drive to win every shift, every puck battle, every game.
Montreal fans have a unique reputation of profound emotional investment, and every coach, every player, every staff member has at one time or another dedicated their efforts to the fans. There’s no doubt there is a special connection, appreciation and mutual recognition of both sides.
Much has been said about the competition. Many see only the trophy at the end of the road. Perhaps nothing else matters to some.
But no matter what happens, there is no denying the animated anticipation experienced by fans of this team. And there is no denying the evidence of it as one need only drive a few blocks to lose count of Habs colors permeating the city streets.
Game 6 will be another nail-biting, heart-palpitating, breath-holding match. However, coming so far, facing and overcoming such adversity, this team has shown its fans that they can believe in the dream, and dare to live it with their hearts on their sleeves, their logos on their chests, and their flags flying high.