MONTREAL — This is no peach of an assignment, but it’s one I must comply with, because this decade of Montreal Canadiens hockey is coming to a close and there actually were three moments from it that are truly worth remembering.
I say it’s a somewhat tedious task because to look back fondly on one of the only two decades over which the winningest franchise in NHL history didn’t manage to win a single Stanley Cup is…well…somewhat disappointing. Up against all that great history — 24 Cups the Canadiens won between the years 1919 and 1993 — it would be ridiculous to suggest anything that happened over the last 10 years would compare.
And, let’s be real, the last half of the 2010s was rife with controversy and otherwise utterly forgettable moments.
Believe me, I know. I was there for all of it.
But I was also working on each of these three momentous occasions from the first half of the decade, and what I witnessed on those nights will stay with me forever. So, with the help of some quotes, tweets and videos, I’m bringing those memories back to life as we bid adieu to the decade.
3. May 12, 2014: P.K. Subban guarantees a win for the Canadiens after Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal against the Boston Bruins
If you want to know how P.K. Subban became one of the most beloved Montreal Canadiens in history, it officially happened months before he pledged to raise $10 million for the Montreal Children’s Hospital.
It was a gradual build from his June draft day in 2007 that percolated to a full boil on that May night back in 2014, when Subban said this about playing Montreal’s archrival, the Boston Bruins, in an upcoming Game 7 at TD Garden for a chance to go to the Eastern Conference Final: “It’s going to be great. The crowd, the noise, the energy in the building — I can’t wait to take that all away from them.”
OK, this wasn’t Mark Messier’s “We will win tonight” guarantee in the 1994 Eastern Conference Final, which the Hall of Famer backed up by scoring a hat trick to help the New York Rangers force Game 7 of their series against the New Jersey Devils. But it was a quote that was guaranteed to get plenty of play in Boston for 48 hours after our very own Chris Johnston stapled it to his Twitter profile following Montreal’s 4-0 win in Game 6 at the Bell Centre.
I mean, this was a bold — bordering on dangerous — thing for Subban to say after the Canadiens had worked so hard to erase a 3-2 series deficit to a Bruins team that had clinched the Presidents’ Trophy and finished with 17 more points in the standings than the Canadiens had accumulated. Especially since the Bruins had a league-leading 31-7-3 home record in the regular season and had beaten Montreal in two of the three playoff games at TD Garden after losing the first one in double overtime.
But Subban’s confidence in himself and the team had skyrocketed after he had five assists in a first-round sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning and three goals and three assists through the first six games of the Boston series.
He didn’t pull back from his assertion before the Canadiens dressing room was vacated by the press. Rather, he doubled down.
“I play to win, I don’t care who’s there,” Subban said. “I don’t care if there’s nobody in the stands. I’m going there to win. It’s irrelevant to me. I hope that it’s a hostile environment, it makes it all better.”
Dale Weise, Max Pacioretty and Daniel Briere did the scoring in Game 7, but it’s fair to say the Canadiens wouldn’t have won the game 3-1 without Subban leading them in ice-time (26:17) and without his four hits and two blocked shots.
2. April 26, 2010: Jaroslav Halak makes 53 saves in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal to help the Canadiens tie their series with the Washington Capitals 3-3
OK, so we can’t pinpoint one specific moment of this game, but we’ll count the whole experience as one of the top-three moments of the decade. Because, honestly, it was one of the most surreal and epic experiences ever witnessed at the Bell Centre.
The circumstances were downright laughable, actually. Jaroslav Halak, the Slovakian netminder chosen in the ninth round of the 2003 draft, had made a grand total of 85 regular-season appearances and three more in the playoffs before being given the assignment of backstopping the 88-point, 16th-seeded Canadiens against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning, 121-point Washington Capitals. And yet, Halak got the job done through Games 1-5 to get the Canadiens to a sixth game in the series.
He had stopped 122 of 135 shots a Capitals team that scored 313 regular-season goals had managed to that point, but what he did in Game 6 will go down as one of the greatest single-game goaltending performances in franchise history.
I’d go as far to call it one of the greatest performances in NHL history, actually.
On this night, Halak stopped eight threatening Alexander Ovechkin shots; he made some 10-bell saves on noted playmaker Nicklas Backstrom; he stretched himself in all directions to block seven shots from sniper Alexander Semin; he made a combined 12 saves on Brooks Laich and Mike Green; and he came up with some of his best stuff of the soiree on the 10 shots Joe Corvo recorded.
Eric Fehr was the only Capital to sneak one through Halak. He did it on Washington’s 52nd shot of the game, with just under five minutes left.
But Halak made two more stops and helped Montreal to a 4-1 win to force Game 7.
“Huge saves. Big, big-time saves,” said Montreal winger Brian Gionta after the game. “We got two early goals, we wanted to get the lead, and then he shut the door. It was him from that point on. And it wasn’t just the amount of shots, he faced a lot of quality shots. He’s unbelievable.”
I was standing within an earshot of Ovechkin when he disagreed with that assessment.
“We make goalies feel unbelievable,” Ovechkin said. “When we played Philadelphia (two years ago), (Martin) Biron was good. (New York Ranger Henrik) Lundqvist was good last year. And this year we make Halak feel good.
“It’s disappointing, but we’ll find a way to break that and win. No panic. Nothing.”
Close to nothing is what Ovechkin and the Capitals got in Game 7, when Halak stopped 41 of 42 shots to help the Canadiens win 2-1.
That was something else, but it was nothing like what he did at the Bell Centre two nights prior.
I don’t know if we’ll ever see anything like that again.
1. May 10, 2010: Mike Cammalleri breaks the sound barrier at the Bell Centre in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinal against the Pittsburgh Penguins
The press box at the Bell Centre is suspended high above the ice, and when I tell you that it was shaking so much it felt like it was going to come down after Mike Cammalleri went forehand to backhand and scored his second goal of the game — and 11th of the playoffs — to pull the Canadiens into a 2-2 tie with the defending Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the 11th minute of the second period in a must-win Game 6, I am not exaggerating.
It was, without a shred of doubt, the most hair-raising moment experienced at this arena since Saku Koivu received that incredible ovation upon his return from successfully battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2002.
That was emotional, and visceral, and nothing will ever compare to it. Ever.
But this? This was eardrum-shattering mayhem. And it felt like a full-blown earthquake in the building, with a television timeout extending the moment.
Watch the whole thing for yourself—no video could possibly do it justice — but take note of how crazy this gets from 1:42 onward.
Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly shocked when the Canadiens scored two minutes and 30 seconds after Cammalleri’s goal to take a 3-2 lead, even if the goal came from an unlikely source in defenceman Jaroslav Spacek.
Cammalleri later described the crowd’s outburst as being “like they’re giving you a little push as you go up the ice.”
That “little push” turned out to be a massive shove, with the Canadiens winning the game 4-3 and eventually taking the series with a 5-2 win in Game 7 two nights later.
Here’s what Cammalleri said about the moment when I revisited the memory with him in a telephone conversation last week:
“I remember the building just feeling like it was the centre of the universe,” he started, “you feel like at that point you’re living in the centre of the universe, like all eyes are here.
“I’ve always had such a romantic view, and that’s one of the reasons I loved playing in Montreal so much is I’ve always been a romantic about sport. I was brought up that way, and my father is that way. It’s just a romantic feeling when the crowd is that engaged, and you’re literally feeling them. You’re feeling connected to them when they’re that passionate about it in that moment. I don’t know what else to say other than it’s got to be tough for the other team. For us to come out and score after a three-minute ovation like that says something. It’s tough for the other team, and I’d say it’s great for us.”
Cammalleri’s memory of the goal that created that magical moment remains well intact.
“I just remember feeling like I got that puck after (Andrei) Kostitsyn threw it across and (Max) Talbot was covering me on that check,” he said.
“I got inside on him, I got on the backhand, and it was kind of a feeling like, ‘Hopefully (Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre) Fleury’s overplaying this,’ because that was kind of my read on Fleury was that he kind of liked to move a lot and overplay plays. I tried to be deceptive with him and always tried to go cross-grain on him, so I was thinking I could get this cross-grain on him and go backhand the other way, and he probably had pushed over and given me some exposure there. I was hopeful, and not even really looking at the net but just kind of feeling it, and it goes post-and-in and it’s like, ‘Alright, 2-2, we can beat these guys.’”
Cammalleri was feeling that, and it was abundantly clear the 21,273 fans in attendance at the Bell Centre that night were feeling it, too.
“That was a unique moment, for sure,” Cammalleri concluded.
I think it was the most unique moment of Canadiens hockey over the past decade.