The Habs are running red-hot after punching a ticket to the Stanley Cup final
Montreal's magical trip to the Cup final has shades of '93
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The Montreal Canadiens are magical
One of the more improbable NHL playoff runs ever continued last night when Montreal beat Vegas 3-2 in overtime to complete a six-game upset and advance to the Stanley Cup final. No one saw this coming for the lowest-ranked team in the post-season, but the Habs are the first Canadian-based team to reach the Cup final since Vancouver lost Game 7 to Boston 10 years ago.
With four more wins, they become the first Canadian team to hoist the Cup since the '93 Habs — fitting, because that team was pretty miraculous too. Seeded just third in the Adams Division, Patrick Roy and company lost their playoff opener to the Quebec Nordiques in overtime before going 10-0 in OT the rest of the way — including three sudden-death wins over Wayne Gretzky's L.A. Kings in the final.
The current Canadiens have been pretty great in OT too, going 5-1. And they're 4-0 in sudden death when one of the teams is facing elimination. It might seem like a million years ago, but Montreal looked dead in the water in the first round after losing three straight to Toronto (by a combined score of 11-2!) and then blowing a three-goal lead in the must-win Game 5. But the Canadiens won that one and the next one in OT, and later sent both the Jets and Golden Knights packing with overtime goals.
Some other interesting things about these Habs:
They will take your best player's soul. Toronto's Auston Matthews managed one goal in seven games vs. Montreal after racking up a league-high 41 in the regular season. His sidekick Mitch Marner, who placed fourth in the points race, didn't score at all against the Habs and is now a pariah in Leaf Nation. Winnipeg's Mark Scheifele took himself out of the series with a violent hit in the opener that landed him a four-game suspension. Vegas' Mark Stone got "skunked," as he called it, failing to record a single point in six games.
Carey Price is in the zone. With all due respect to Montreal's skaters, who are peaking at the right time, a roster like this would not be capable of reaching the Cup final without red-hot goaltending. Price is an inferno right now, leading all playoff goalies except for (oddly enough) Toronto's Jack Campbell in goals-against average (2.02) and save percentage (.934). Roy's '93 run is legendary. If the Habs win the Cup this year, Price's may go down in history right beside it.
Their special teams are really special. The power play has been solid, ranking fourth in conversion rate among the eight teams that made it to at least the second round. The penalty kill, though, is out of this world. Montreal's 93.5 per cent success rate is by far the best in the playoffs and a huge improvement on the team's regular-season mark of 78.5 per cent, which ranked 23rd. The Habs have now killed off an incredible 30 consecutive power-play opportunities for their opponents and haven't allowed a man-advantage goal in 13 games. That's the longest playoff streak since the NHL started tracking such things in 1933-34. As you might expect, Price has been a brick wall on the penalty kill. He's stopped 60 of the 63 shots on net he's faced in the playoffs while his team is shorthanded. That's a .952 save percentage, which should not even be possible in those shooting-gallery conditions.
Montreal now awaits the winner of Game 7 tonight between the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning and the gritty New York Islanders (8 p.m. ET on CBC TV, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app). Whoever takes it will host Game 1 of the Cup final, which is expected to be on Monday night. The Habs might be underdogs again — and certainly against Tampa. But how can you bet against a team running this hot? Read more about Montreal's storybook run to the Cup final in this story by CBC Sports contributor Vicki Hall.
A Canadian basketball player might have to choose between the Olympics and her baby daughter. Women's national team guard Kim Gaucher is breastfeeding her three-month-old. Under normal circumstances, Gaucher would bring her along to Tokyo. But, because of the pandemic, Olympic organizers made a rule that athletes' family members and friends are not allowed to attend. The Canadian Olympic Committee and Canada Basketball say an appeal was made asking for Gaucher's daughter and husband to be allowed to accompany her to Japan. But there has been no softening of the rule yet, forcing Gaucher to try and plead her case through social media and the press. Her simple ask: "It's 2021. Let's see if we can make working moms normal." Read more about Gaucher's plight in this story by CBC Sports' Myles Dichter.
Canada's Derek Drouin won't defend his Olympic high jump title. The 31-year-old's career has been derailed by serious injuries since he won gold in Rio. He suffered a herniated disc in his neck and tore both of his Achilles tendons. Drouin made his first Diamond League appearance in four years last month, but he finished in the middle of the pack and still hadn't cleared the Olympic-standard height heading into this week's Canadian track and field trials. Today, Drouin pulled out of the trials and announced he's given up on Tokyo, saying his body just wasn't up to the task. Read more about Drouin's decision to end his Olympic quest here.
Two Canadians are in the mix at the Women's PGA Championship. Alena Sharp came into the day just two shots off the lead after shooting a 3-under in the opening round. She was early in her second round at our publish time. Brooke Henderson was in the clubhouse at even-par for the tournament after shooting a 2-under today. The Women's PGA is the third major of the season and the last tournament before the world rankings are locked in for the purposes of Olympic qualifying. Henderson, who's ranked fifth in the world, is an obvious lock for Tokyo. Sharp is 143rd, but she should get in too because of the limits on how many golfers each country is allowed to send. See an updated Women's PGA Championship leaderboard here.
Canada will play for gold at the World Para Ice Hockey Championships. Today's 2-1 semifinal win over Russia in the Czech Republic earned the Canadians a gold-medal showdown with the United States. The Americans crushed Korea 9-0 in the other semi. This is the fifth consecutive time the U.S. and Canada have met in the final. They split the previous four, with the Americans winning the last one, in 2019. The U.S. also beat Canada in the 2018 Paralympic final to win its third straight gold medal. Watch the teams' latest championship battle live Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app. You can also watch the bronze game at noon ET.
This weekend on CBC Sports
Besides the aforementioned para hockey medal games, here are the sports you can live stream and watch on TV:
Volleyball: Watch the men's Nations League semifinals live Saturday at 5:15 a.m. ET and 8:45 a.m. ET, the bronze-medal match Sunday at 5:15 a.m. ET and the gold-medal match Sunday at 8:45 a.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.
Canadian Elite Basketball League: It's the opening weekend of the CEBL's third season. Watch the Hamilton Honey Badgers vs. the defending champion Edmonton Stingers live Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app. And watch the Saskatchewan Rattlers vs. the Fraser Valley Bandits live Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.
Road to the Olympic Games: This week's show features the best performances from Canada's Olympic swimming trials, where 14-year-old Summer McIntosh won two events, 37-year-old Brent Hayden qualified for his fourth Olympics, Penny Oleksiak earned the right to defend her 100m freestyle gold medal, and reigning world champions Kylie Masse and Maggie Mac Neil won their best events. Watch the show Saturday from 2:30-4 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.
And check out...
The GIST newsletter: At the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, the bulk of Canada's medals are going to be won by women. So it's a great time to get into this fun and informative newsletter written by Canadian women with a passion for women's sports — and fresh perspectives on men's sports too. Subscribe for free here.
You're up to speed. Have a good weekend.