BROSSARD, Quebec -- The Montreal Canadiens appear to be just about the only ones who still believe they can make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If they want to prove it's still possible, they'll have to start this weekend by sweeping the traditional back-to-back set of matinees on Super Bowl weekend, starting with Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday (2 p.m. ET; CBC, SN, RDS, NHL.TV).
"I know that we have two big games this weekend," defenseman P.K. Subban said. "As I've said previously this season, we can't afford to look back and feel sorry for ourselves. We have to look forward. We have a big opportunity here to make a huge push and give ourselves an opportunity to make the playoffs. I don't think there's any doubt in this dressing room that we can still do it."
The doubt comes from the outside, and it surrounds the Canadiens on all sides. Based on the reaction on sports talk radio and social media, the vast majority of the Canadiens' massive fan base has given up hope on the season. Talk of what general manager Marc Bergevin should do to fix the team dominates discussion on every street corner.
Players, coaches and management need to find a way to block it all out, but that's not necessarily easy to do in Montreal, not when everyone is so emotionally invested in the success of the hockey club.
It is often said when the Canadiens are winning, everything seems better in Montreal. Food tastes better. People are nicer. The bitter winter is more bearable.
The opposite is also true when the team is losing, and the people of Montreal have never seen a slide like the 5-20-1 run the Canadiens are mired in.
It is not the worst 26-game stretch in Canadiens history; that distinction belongs to the 1939-40 edition of the club that went 2-22-2, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. But the drastic and sudden nature of the collapse from being one of the top teams in the NHL to being six points out of the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference has been a serious jolt to the people here.
Amid this storm of negativity, the Canadiens continue to believe. What choice do they have?
"You can't blame people," forward Brendan Gallagher said. "I know what it's like to be a fan."
Gallagher also knows, however, that as a professional hockey player he can't listen to what fans or media are saying. As tough as it is to do that in Montreal, a market saturated by coverage of his team, Gallagher knows how to keep things in perspective.
"Everyone's job is hard," he said. "If this is the toughest thing we have to deal with in our lives, we have a pretty good life. It's part of the job."
The Canadiens have 10 games remaining before the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 29; realistically, they would need to win at least eight of them in order to give Bergevin some reason to believe he should spend future assets to bring in immediate help. In the background is the continued recovery of goaltender Carey Price from a lower-body injury that has kept him out of action since Nov. 25.
Price has been skating with no equipment almost every day since Jan. 11, but there still is no timeline for his return.
If the Canadiens can go on a winning streak until Price returns, whenever that is, maybe they'll have a chance. But there is no room for error, and they know it.
"In the position we are in, we understand it's going to be really tough," coach Michel Therrien said. "But I see it more as a challenge. It's like when you're in the playoffs and you're down one [game] to three, you understand it's going to be tough to win that series. Are you going to quit? No, you're going to give it your all. You see teams that have been down and won the series, and this is the same thing."
So the Canadiens enter the weekend knowing they basically can't lose anymore, and it's the first week of February. With 24 regulation losses in 52 games, 20 of them in the past 26 games, they already have surpassed their total of 22 regulation losses in 82 games last season.
The Canadiens have provided no reason to believe they can turn this around other than the fact they were once 19-4-3, which seems like an eternity ago.
They will have to prove that was no fluke, and they will have to do so immediately.
"There's no other way to change the feeling in the city or how people feel about us around the League other than coming out and playing better, being better on the ice," Subban said. "That's the best way to change that. So for us, if we win a couple of games here, all of a sudden people are saying we're not quitting. For us, there's no quit in here. We feel we have an opportunity to make the playoffs and as long as we have a chance, we're going to keep fighting."