MONTREAL – When Josh Anderson was about to turn 16 years old, Gary and Michelle Anderson told their son he could go anywhere in the world for his birthday.
Despite growing up a Toronto Maple Leafs fan in Burlington, Ont., the boy chose this city, this rink, at this, the most important time of the hockey calendar.
“I picked to go to a Montreal playoff game,” Anderson recalled back in October, upon being traded to and signed by the Canadiens through the rest of his prime.
“My dad ended up taking me down for the night, and I believe the Montreal Canadiens were playing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs. To experience that as a 16-year-old and to see what it was like in the playoffs in the Bell Centre was pretty amazing.”
In the business, we call this foreshadowing.
Flash forward 11 years, $38.5 million, and twice that many chirps: Here is Anderson, in the playoffs, in the Bell Centre, creating the amazing.
The mighty, rink-tilting Tampa Bay Lightning had not trailed all Stanley Cup final — a dominant run of 255:39 without giving up a lead — until Anderson found the twine off a beautiful feed from new centreman Nick Suzuki in the first period of Game 4.
So what if Anderson’s strike, at the 15:39 mark of the first period, was just Montreal’s second shot of the game? Or that Tampa had already pounded 11 pucks at Carey Price?
The goal verified coach Dominique Ducharme’s line juggling act, breathed life into the nervous barn, and gave the holy trinity of Guy Lafleur, Patrick Roy and Yves Cournoyer — watching from the good suites — a reason for hope.
Tampa’s power-play is so lethal, it couldn’t possibly be shut down for four minutes, three of them on a clean overtime sheet. Could it?
Yet a dialed-in Price and a committed penalty-killing unit were up to the task, flipping a negative (five Tampa power-plays!) into a positive and cueing the heroics.
Shortly after Montreal survived Weber’s double-minor, Anderson stick-lifted Ryan McDonagh to win a loose puck, gathered a head of steam down the left flank, and held off defender Jan Rutta enough to one-hand the puck into the slot for a Cole Caufield chance.
Anderson then had the presence of mind to brake at the goal line and gather himself in time to lunge back and whack Caufield’s rebound home for his second OT winner of this post-season.
There’s your dagger.
There’s your trip to Tampa, pleasing mayors of two cities with one shot.
"A big moment. I wasn't really sure if it did go in there at the very beginning. I just looked at the ref’s hands and saw a bunch of people coming to me, but I was very fortunate,” Anderson said.
"We didn't want to end it tonight in front of our fans.”
Entering Game 4, Anderson was talking that talk — “We're not finished yet,” he vowed over the weekend — but, boy, did he walk it on Monday.
So confident was Anderson that the Canadiens would extend the series that he and his teammates packed his Florida luggage Monday afternoon for Tuesday’s flight.
This in the midst of a six-game goal drought and a viral video of Tampa’s Pat Maroon chirping Anderson into smithereens.
“We've seen him all year. He brings that speed. He's hard on the forecheck. And obviously, taking to him, talked about making sure we have that net-front presence,” said coach Dominique Ducharme, compelled to give Suzuki and Caufield a jolt by riding shotgun to a powerhorse.
“I just felt a little bit that those three guys together were a little bit more outside, really good off the rush and not spending as much O-zone time. And I think he can help on that side.”
When general manager Marc Bergevin traded away Max Domi for Anderson, it was because Anderson’s speedy, physical, driving game lent itself to the playoff grind.
"Players who play that style of game,” Bergevin said, “there are not a lot of those in the NHL.”
Moments like Monday’s, when you’re celebrating a Stanley Cup final OT winner on your back, there aren’t many of those either.
If someone told you that you could go anywhere in the world Monday night, it might be inside the skates of Josh Anderson, raised to the rafters. A goal light burning red.
“It’s a little bit of a blur right now,” Anderson said.
“Just happy to still be alive and heading to Tampa.”