The Montreal Canadiens have overcome wave after wave of adversity in 2021.
From losing streaks to a COVID-19 shutdown to injuries and long odds throughout an improbable playoff run, these underdogs mustered a response each and every time their backs were pressed firmly against the wall.
A franchise in search of its 25th Stanley Cup, and Canada’s first since Montreal last hoisted hockey’s Holy Grail on a June night back in 1993, will have to dig far deeper than at any point in this trying year to keep that now-flickering dream alive.
The Canadiens face the daunting task of climbing a mountain that only one other NHL team has ever conquered — erasing a 3-0 deficit in the final. And it has to happen against the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
“We’ve got nothing to lose,” winger Josh Anderson said as Montreal prepared for Monday’s Game 4 at the Bell Centre, which can be seen at 8 p.m. ET on CBC and CBCSports.ca. “Everyone’s going to be ready, I can tell you that.
“We’re not finished yet.”
As tough as the challenge is against a well-oiled opponent without weak links that pounces on mistakes with lethal precision, being written off is nothing new for a team left for dead time and again.
‘It’s been a difficult season’
After firing its coach in February and enduring a coronavirus outbreak in March, the battered and bruised Canadiens limped into the post-season with the NHL’s 18th-best record at the conclusion of its pandemic-shortened schedule.
Montreal looked done and dusted through four games of the opening round against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but down 3-1 in the series, won three straight against a heavily favoured adversary to take it in seven before a stunning sweep of the Winnipeg Jets.
The grinding Canadiens continued to roll against the Vegas Golden Knights — the league’s biggest third-round favourite in more than 30 years — and triumphed even after interim bench boss Dominique Ducharme tested positive for COVID-19, which forced him to watch his team from isolation for two weeks.
The Canadiens were once again a longshot in the final, but also quietly confident in their formula.
But here’s the problem: Tampa possesses its own blueprint for success and, except for Game 2 when Montreal probably deserved a better fate, has executed it to a T.
WATCH | Late turnover ends Habs late rally:
Now the Canadiens require another counterpunch or they’ll be saying their physically distanced goodbyes in short order.
“It’s been a difficult season,” Montreal defenceman Jeff Petry said. “It’s presented challenges throughout challenges in different ways.
“This is another one. I wouldn’t expect it any differently with the year we’ve had.”
Ducharme said his players, who are hoping to join the 1942 Leafs as the only team to come back from a 3-0 hole to win the Cup, will fight until their last breath.
“That group has grown stronger together throughout the moments, adversity, and facing those situations,” Ducharme said. “We show it every day. Sometimes we lose a game or it doesn’t go exactly like you wanted.
“But there’s one thing that’s for sure — it’s not a lack of trying, it’s not a lack of will.”
‘Our focus is to make sure we play the right way’
The Lightning, meanwhile, are on the cusp of capturing their second straight title, and third overall, after winning inside last year’s post-season bubble.
Tampa can become just the second team in 22 years to claim back-to-back championships — joining the 2016 and 2017 Pittsburgh Penguins — the first team to sweep the final since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings, and just the second visiting club to lift the Cup on Canadiens’ ice, following in the footsteps of the 1989 Calgary Flames.
“It becomes like a legacy thing,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said of repeating. “It’s street cred for the guys, for the organization.”
Petry said denying Tampa that moment at the Bell Centre doesn’t provide any added motivation.
“We don’t want to see the Lightning win the Stanley Cup at all,” he said. “You’re not going to win four games by winning (Monday).
“Our focus is to make sure we play the right way a strong, hard game.”
‘One more job to do’
Down 2-0 in the series, the Canadiens fell behind 2-0 early Friday thanks to a series of errors, and faced a three-goal deficit before the second period was four minutes old. Outscored a combined 14-5 through nine periods of action, Montreal hasn’t led for a single second against Tampa.
“The adjustment is not major,” Ducharme said. “We know what we need to do and we know it’s about executing. It’s about executing under pressure. It’s about making those plays at the right time.”
WATCH | Caufield can make history with Cup win:
The Canadiens faced elimination three times against Toronto in the first round and survived.
Now some 5 1/2 weeks later — it feels a lot longer in this crazy playoff spring that’s morphed into an unlikely Cup final summer — they once again have zero room for error.
“Everybody in that locker room believes in each other,” Anderson said. “The guys have been through a lot this year. We stuck together and we made it this far.
“We’ve got one more job to do.”
Then they’ll have to do it three more times.
Makar gets love from Orr after winning 2022 Norris, Conn Smythe Trophies – NHL.com
Canuck icons Henrik, Daniel Sedin, Sens star Alfredsson lead 2022 Hockey Hall of Fame class – CBC Sports
Henrik and Daniel Sedin entered the NHL together.
The superstar twins then tormented a generation of opponents with the Vancouver Canucks throughout dominant careers that included mesmerizing displays of skill, individual accolades and unprecedented team success.
It’s only fitting the talented brothers will walk into the Hockey Hall of Fame side-by-side.
The Sedins headline the class of 2022 elected Monday, one with a decidedly West Coast and Swedish feel that includes former Canucks teammate Roberto Luongo, fellow countryman and former Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, Finnish women’s player Riikka Sallinen and builder Herb Carnegie.
“It’s not what you think about when you when you play the game,” said Henrik Sedin, who along with his brother and Luongo were in their first years of hall eligibility. “We’ve always just put our head down and tried to put in our work.
“What we were most proud of is that we got the most out of our talent.”
“Truly an amazing feeling,” Luongo added on a media conference call. “It feels surreal.”
WATCH | Daniel and Henrik Sedin have numbers retired in Vancouver:
Alfredsson, who’s has been eligible since 2017, thought he might have to wait at least another year until the phone rang at his home in Sweden.
“It’s such a privilege to be able to play this sport for a living,” he said. “Something I would have played for fun for my whole life without a question.”
“I’m probably the second-best Daniel out of this group,” joked Daniel Sedin, who along with his brother will be 42 when the induction ceremony takes place in November.
“Couldn’t be more honoured.”
Henrik Sedin — selected No. 3 overall at the 1999 draft, one spot behind Daniel — is Vancouver’s all-time leader in assists (830), points (1,070), games played (1,330) and power-play points (369).
The centre won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP and the Art Ross Trophy as its leading scorer in 2009-10. He added 23 goals and 78 points in 105 playoff games, including the Canucks’ run to the 2011 Stanley Cup final.
If Henrik was the passer on what was one of hockey’s most dangerous lines, Daniel Sedin was the trigger man.
His 393 goals are first in team history, and the winger sits second in assists (648), points (1,041), games played (1,306) and power-play points (367).
Daniel Sedin won the Ted Lindsay Award as the league MVP as voted by NHL Players’ Association members in 2010-11 to go along with the Art Ross Trophy. He added 71 points in 102 playoff games.
“Just watching them work with each other on the ice and literally knowing where they are without even seeing each other was something that always blew my mind,” Luongo said of the Sedins. “They’re great teammates. Everybody loved them, great people.
“Not so great card players, but that’s for another day.”
The hall’s 2020 edition was finally inducted last November after a delay because of the COVID-19 pandemic after officials decided against naming a class of 2021.
The 18-member selection committee met in-person this year for the first time since 2019.
Luongo’s storied career began with Islanders
Luongo started his career with the New York Islanders and wrapped up with the Florida Panthers.
His best moments, however, were on the West Coast.
When he retired, Luongo ranked third in NHL history with 489 wins, a number that’s since been surpassed by Marc-Andre Fleury.
The 43-year-old sits second behind Martin Brodeur in three goaltending categories — games played (1,044), shots against (30,924) and saves (28,409).
Luongo twice won 40 games with the Canucks, including an eye-popping 47 victories in 2006-07, and made at least 70 appearances in four straight seasons.
“He was the difference for us to get the next level,” Henrik Sedin said. “If you’re talking about a winner, he’s the guy.
“Never took a day off.”
A finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top netminder on three occasions, Luongo sat behind only Sidney Crosby in Hart Trophy voting following his 47-win campaign.
The Montreal native won two Olympic gold medals, leading Canada to the top of the podium in Vancouver in 2010 before backing up Carey Price in Sochi four years later.
“It’s a really, truly humbling experience,” Luongo said before adding of the Sedins: “And the best part of the whole thing is that I get to go in with two of my favourite teammates of all time and two of the greatest people I know.”
Best line in hockey <br><br>Luongo-Sedin-Sedin
Alfredsson scored 444 goals in 18 seasons
Alfredsson put up 444 goals, 713 assists and 1,157 points during his 18 NHL seasons.
The face of the Senators for a generation in the nation’s capital won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year in 1996, and added 100 points in 124 playoff contests.
“We looked up to the way he plays hockey and what kind of person he is,” Henrik Sedin said.
Alfredsson, who won Olympic gold with the Sedins in 2006 and led Ottawa to the 2007 Cup final, thanked Senators fans for helping him get over the hall hump, including a social media campaign this spring that included boosts from the organization and former teammates.
“Really special with the support I’ve had from Ottawa throughout my career from the beginning until this day,” said the 49-year-old, who owns the franchise record for goals, assists and points. “They’ve been a real big supporter of mine and trying to help me get into the Hall of Fame.
“They’re behind me all the way … it goes both ways.”
Sallinen played 16 seasons with the Finnish women’s national team, winning Olympic bronze in both 1998 and 2018.
She added a silver at the 2019 world championships to go along with six third-place finishes. In all, the 48-year-old scored 63 goals and added 59 assists in 81 games for her country.
Hall of Fame selection committee chair Mike Gartner, who was inducted in 2012, said on the media call that Sallinen had yet to be informed of the honour, but quipped she should pick up the phone and dial in if she was listening.
Carnegie, who died in March 2012 at age 92, has often been mentioned as the best Black hockey player to never play in the NHL.
Following a long career in senior hockey where he faced racism that kept him from achieving his ultimate dream, Carnegie founded Future Aces, one of Canada’s first hockey schools, in 1955.
He was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2001, the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 2014, and was also named to the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada.
“This is so important to so many people out there who believed in my father,” said Herb Carnegie’s daughter, Bernice. “Whether he was golfing or whether he was in business or whether he was working with thousands upon thousands of young people, it always came back to hockey and how his how he learned so much from the game.
“I am so proud.”
Report: Nets’ Kyrie Irving opting into $37M player option for 2022-23 season – Sportsnet.ca
NEW YORK — Kyrie Irving has decided to exercise his $36.9 million option for the coming season and will remain under contract with the Brooklyn Nets, two people with knowledge of his decision said Monday.
The people spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because the Nets had not confirmed the decision publicly.
The Athletic first reported Irving’s decision. “Normal people keep the world going, but those who dare to be different lead us into tomorrow. I’ve made my decision to opt in. See you in the fall,” the outlet quoted Irving as saying.
On Twitter, Irving posted a separate statement: “I know who I am,” was the message there.
For now, that still means a member of the Nets.
The seven-time All-Star averaged 27.4 points and 5.8 assists this past season for the Nets, with whom he has spent the last three seasons. He’s about to enter the final season in a four-year, $137 million deal with Brooklyn.
Irving had until Wednesday to inform the Nets of his opt-in decision. It closes one element of the ongoing saga regarding Irving’s future, which has been one of the biggest storylines as the league prepares for the start of free agency later this week.
He appeared in only 29 regular-season games this past season, largely because of his decision to not be vaccinated against COVID-19. That made him ineligible to play in most of Brooklyn’s home games, until getting an exemption to New York City’s mandate in the spring.
The Nets entered this past season thinking they would have a core of Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden. It didn’t work out anywhere near as planned; Irving wasn’t with the team for the majority of the season, Harden ended up getting traded to Philadelphia, the Nets needed to survive the play-in tournament just to make the playoffs and wound up getting swept in the first round by eventual Eastern Conference champion Boston.
Back in March, Irving was asked if he was planning to return to Brooklyn for next season. He gave no indication otherwise.
“I love it here,” Irving said at the time. “Once that summertime hits, I know that we’ll have some conversations. But there’s no way I can leave my man 7 anywhere.”
Summertime hit. The conversations apparently didn’t go as first planned.
And “my man 7” — that meant Durant, who wears jersey No. 7 for the Nets — may have been seeing his point guard departing, a move that certainly could have led to Durant pondering his own future in Brooklyn.
But with Irving presumably back, and with Ben Simmons — who didn’t play at all this season and was acquired by the Nets in the Harden trade — set to team up alongside Irving and Durant this coming season, Brooklyn could quickly return to contender status.
Irving could have made this all go away over the weekend, or at least turned the full boil down closer to simmer, when asked by Complex News at the BET Awards if he still wants to play for the Nets. He declined to answer. He wasn’t rude about it, did it with a smile, but didn’t provide so much as a hint.
A tiny one came Monday when the clip was posted to Instagram and Irving was among those to comment.
“When I smile like that, it means there’s more to the story,” Irving wrote Monday, several hours before his opt-in decision was revealed. “I’ll have my time to address things.”
NBA free agency opens Thursday at 6 p.m. ET.
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