MONTREAL — From failing hands we throw the torch…
Here in Montreal, the possibility of missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the third time in five seasons is becoming very real. It would be … wait for it … the first time in franchise history such a run occurred for the Montreal Canadiens.
Well, hold my beer.
The Edmonton Oilers, of course, have doubled down on that feat, missing the playoffs in 12 of the past 13 seasons. But as the Canadiens pour over their record books to put this dismal season into perspective, the Oilers have become that team that was making good on intermission speeches, finding a new hero, and cranking up the music in the post-game dressing room after a 4-2 win in which they played one decent period, then got out of Dodge with the two points.
The worm has turned, friends.
It’s not everyone else doing this to the Oilers anymore.
“I remember some of the teams I was on in Detroit,” began centreman Riley Sheahan, who scored a goal and had a hell of a game next to Joakim Nygard. “We had some pretty experienced, veteran leaders. You just felt like there was no panic. When we needed a little bit of a boost in between periods guys would talk about it, and we did that in here today.
“Smitty kind of gave us a little wake-up call today. We know we need to play better than that, but when you can come back through the adversity like that, it shows a lot about your team.”
We’ve written before about the swagger that goaltender Mike Smith gives a team. Sure, it helps when he’s stopping pucks the way he is right now — 35 saves and a .946 save percentage on Thursday — but he’s a leader. The kind of guy this organization hasn’t had enough of in the past decade.
So would Smith shed a little light on what he had to say to the boys after 40 minutes?
“Not at all,” he offered.
Just a little…?
OK, Oscar, how about you?
“We have a leadership group, some guys who have been around the league for many years,” Klefbom began, rather vaguely. “We‘ve been playing too well to just throw it away today.
“It’s almost a good thing to have a game like this every once in a while and come back. To just get that belief system,” he continued. “When we had that playoff run two years ago, I don’t know how many times we were down a goal, or two goals, but we had that feeling in the group. ‘It’s fine. We’re going to turn this thing around, and believe.’ And we did.
“This is a step,” Klefbom concluded. “It’s not a good thing that we put ourselves in this situation, but it’s about how do we get out of it? And how do we get points?”
There’s no great pride in eking out a win in Montreal anymore. Not against an injured, bedraggled Habs team that has now lost eight games in a row for the second time this season.
But it’s how Edmonton won.
The puck wasn’t following Connor McDavid on Thursday night, the way it had been in Toronto on Monday. So when the Habs got up 2-0 it was Sheahan who quickly made it 2-1, putting a dent in the Canadiens’ fragile psyche.
As my friend Rob Tychkowski used to say, they were going full Oiler.
Seven minutes later, Klefbom threw a hard pass into the high slot that Alex Chiasson redirected home in his finest Daniel Sedin impersonation, the winning goal in his hometown rink, with his parents cheering in the Bell Centre seats.
“I grew up watching the Habs. Always dreamed of getting one,” he said. “It’s a fun night when Mom and Dad and friends are in town.”
Chiasson grew up in Laval, Que., 25 minutes away. But as a hockey player he truly grew up in Washington, where he won a Stanley Cup as a Capital in the spring of 2018. There, he saw the way winning teams handle themselves.
On the good nights, and the not so good ones.
“There are nights when you’re not going to play your best, but that doesn’t mean that you just go out and (bleep) the bed,” he said. “You’ve got to go out, you’ve got to figure out a way to get points. That’s what good teams do.
“The power play got us that, the goaltending was great, and the team is growing.”