This improbable run for the Montreal Canadiens
began 27 days ago when Tomas Plekanec
rifled a shot from the high slot into the top right corner of the net for a surprising overtime victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Washington Capitals
Most pundits didn't expect this club, which lost more games than it won during the 2009-10 regular season, to win more than a time or two this postseason. The Canadiens knew it, and have rallied with a "no one believes in us" mantra.
Montreal, having already knocked off the Presidents' Trophy winners in the first round, can prevail against the Stanley Cup champions Wednesday in Game 7 at Mellon Arena (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS).
Should they pull it off, the Canadiens will be in an Eastern Conference Final against either Boston or Philadelphia. Given Montreal's resume this postseason, it would be fair to think the Canadiens might be the favorites to win such a series and earn a place in the Stanley Cup Final.
"No one has really expected us to be here and it is kind of fun to be the underdog sometimes. Obviously we are getting up there -- it is Game 7 of the second round. We have a chance to do something special." -- Ryan O'Byrne
Now the little team that could, with nothing to lose, suddenly has a lot to win.
"Yeah, that's true, but I think that mentality has served has well," Ryan O’Byrne said. "No one has really expected us to be here and it is kind of fun to be the underdog sometimes. Obviously we are getting up there -- it is Game 7 of the second round. We have a chance to do something special. Teams aren't underestimating maybe as much as they were before. This is obviously a big game, and we want to win it and move onto the conference finals."
The Canadiens needed some pretty extraordinary performances to best the Capitals, who finished the regular season with 33 more points in the standings. Jaroslav Halak
stopped 131 of 134 shots in the final three games, the defensive system frustrated Washington's big guns into poor shot selection and the Canadiens were able to flummox the League's top-rated power play.
This series has played out differently. Halak has been very good, but the Canadiens haven't needed him to be other-worldly like he was in Game 6 against Washington. Take away Game 1 against the Penguins, which came 48 hours after an emotional Game 7 win in Washington, and the Canadiens have outscored the Penguins 11-10 in the past five games.
There have been no blowouts like Games 3 and 4 of the first round. This has been a tightly contested series between two teams that were considerably closer in the final regular-season standings.
"No, I don't think so -- not during the preparation for the game," Michael Cammalleri
said when asked about needing a hero. "You don't set up for a game thinking we need heroes. We just want to go play a good game. If we play well as a group, no one needs to be a hero."
The Penguins have plenty of experience in Game 7s, dating back to victories against Washington and Detroit en route to their championship. These Canadiens know a thing or two about elimination games, as well.
Montreal fended off the time for golfing and pool parties three times against Washington, becoming the first No. 8 seed to recover from a 3-1 deficit. The Canadiens did it again Saturday in Montreal in Game 6 of this series.
It is a team that was pasted together before the season with a lot of new faces, but an identity has emerged. The Canadiens are strong in their own end and counterpunch with a great deal of success. There's no reason to think the game plan would change for another Game 7.
"Right now, we've got a good sense of confidence in our room," Glen Metropolit
said. "We had a good skate this morning. Guys are loose. We were all laughing and have a good time together. You just try not to hold your stick too tight. That's the bottom line. We know they're the defending champs and every inch is going to be a battle."
Added O'Byrne: "This is obviously what it is all about. One game, elimination -- we had a chance to do it in the first round against Washington. It was my first one personally and it was everything I thought it would be. It is so much energy and everyone playing their best. It is really what you play hockey for."