At the start of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, with Montreal as Canada's lone representative in the NHL post-season, it was asked by many if fans of the other six Canadian-based teams would hop on the Habs' bandwagon. It seemed highly unlikely since the Canadiens are a polarizing franchise: You either love them or hate them.
Many Canadiens fans even have a love-hate relationship with the team. When things are going well, there is nothing more insufferable than Habs fans who will go out of their way to remind you they have won the Stanley Cup more than any other team, even though their last championship came in 1993 and they have not been back to the final since. When things are going badly, no fans turn on their team as quickly and with as much venom as Habs fans.
And yet here we are with Montreal leading the big, bad Boston Bruins two games to one in the second round. The Canadiens could be ahead 3-0 in the series if not for a third-period meltdown in Game 2 during which they blew a two-goal lead and lost 5-3.
Nevertheless, the Canadiens are suddenly quite likeable.
Goaltender Carey Price has been a rock between the pipes. Even after the discouraging loss in Game 2 in Boston, Price maintained his calm demeanor, which seems to settle his teammates down.
In 1993, it was a 26-year-old Patrick Roy who stole the spotlight in the playoffs, winning 10 games in overtime.
That may never be duplicated, but Price is also 26, and while he has not been called upon to be an overtime hero night after night, he is certainly as important to his team this season as Roy was to the Canadiens 21 years ago.
Then there's the story of Subban. After being held pointless in the opening game of the '13-14 playoffs, he has put together an unbelievable run of six straight games with points. He stands third overall in playoff scoring with three goals and 11 points and has strung together three consecutive multi-point games.
The defending Norris trophy winner has performed admirably despite the distraction of racial comments being hurled his way by cowards on Twitter. As mature as he is colourful and creative on the ice, Subban has used those slights to inspire him to even greater heights. For that, he has many quietly hoping his team will enjoy success, even if they aren't tried-and-true fans of the Canadiens.
In the United States, which houses the league's other 23 teams, it doesn't matter which club makes it to the final -- if one is based in the U.S., and the other in Canada, you can bet there will be chants of "USA! USA!" from the fans. Americans have more of an our-country-against-theirs mentality.
In Canada, fans tend to remain loyal to their favourite teams, but when you haven't had a Canadian-based Stanley Cup champ for so long, maybe it's time to temporarily cheer for the one team that can put Canada back on the NHL map.
On the bandwagon?
There are those that would not cheer for any other team, let alone the Habs, under any circumstances. Still, you have to wonder if fans of the other Canadian-based teams are cozying up just a bit and the bandwagon will become fuller with each passing Montreal victory.
Fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs must realize now that their favorite team is a million miles away from being a legitimate Stanley Cup threat. Being successful this time of year requires unadulterated toughness and the Maple Leafs are as soft as butter.
The Vancouver Canucks are in absolute disarray while the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames remain in rebuild mode with no signs of escaping the lower third of the league standings. The Ottawa Senators took a step back this season after a surprisingly strong 2012-13 campaign, and the Winnipeg Jets are, well, the Winnipeg Jets.
There is still a long way to go in this year's playoffs and, as the Maple Leafs found out last season, just because you have a lead on the Bruins doesn't mean they are dead in the water. In fact, I expect a huge pushback game from Boston on Thursday night in Montreal.
My guess is there are a lot more Canadians pulling for the Canadiens now than at the start of the playoffs.
Mike BrophyMike Brophy brings a wealth of hockey writing and broadcasting experience to CBC Sports, having covered junior hockey for 14 years before joining The Hockey News as its senior writer for 17 years starting in 1992. Most recently, the Burlington, Ont., native worked as a writer/commentator at Rogers Sportsnet and as co-host of The Power Play on SiriusXM. Mike has written four books, including My First Goal, featuring 50 players describing their first NHL goals.
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