If the Montreal Canadiens become the first team in more than two decades to get swept in the Stanley Cup final, does that change how we think about them?
If the Montreal Canadiens become the first team in more than two decades to get swept in the Stanley Cup final, does that change how we think about them?
It’s a complicated question.
On one hand, the Habs did something no other Canadian team has done since 2011 by reaching the final in a year when few expected them to even make the playoffs. That’s something to be proud about.
On the other — and here is where the jokes come in — down 3-0 to the Lightning, it’s still been 28 years since they actually won a game in the final.
That’s the fear now — that if the Habs get swept in a series in which they have looked overwhelmed and overmatched, they will have something to be embarrassed about. That four games will essentially wipe out what they accomplished in the previous three rounds of the playoffs. That they have gone from being put on a pedestal to being the country’s punch line.
Obviously, it shouldn’t be this way. In a normal situation, reaching the final is worth celebrating. Win or lose, it’s a sign of growth and an indication that the team is on the path to something special. Except, as Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme said on Saturday morning: “There’s nothing normal about this year.”
Because of the new divisional alignments in this post-pandemic season, a Canadian team had a 50% chance of making the final. That Montreal happened to be the team to do it was a bit lucky — if not fluky.
The Canadiens were the lowest-seeded playoff team in a North Division that was widely considered as the weakest in the NHL. Had they been in the Central, East or West, the Habs would not have qualified for the post-season. Even in the North, they finished with fewer wins than Calgary and probably would have been passed by Vancouver if not for an outbreak of COVID.
That doesn’t take away from what the Habs accomplished. But if we’re going to be real, they mightily overachieved. They got hot at the right moment and got some help from the hockey gods.
They were an overtime goal away from losing in five games to the Maple Leafs in the first round and they might have lost in the semifinal to Vegas had Marc-Andre Fleury been better at playing the puck behind his own net. They benefitted from playing teams that were without a top centre, whether it was Toronto’s John Tavares, Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele or Vegas’ Chandler Stephenson.
Yes, Carey Price has been fantastic. And their youngsters have taken a huge step forward in their development. But with Tampa Bay leading 3-0 in a series in which Montreal has been outscored 14-5, the Cinderella run is finally running its course.
The question is what this means going forward.
Is this the start of something special in the way that it was for an Edmonton Oilers team that got swept by the Islanders in 1983, and then won five championships in the following seven years? Or, like the Canucks team that lost to the Bruins in 2011 and then went eight years without winning a playoff round. Is this another one-off?
It’s quite possible that it could be the latter. After all, Montreal will be back next year in an Atlantic Division that had four of the top10 teams. On paper, the Habs are not better than Tampa Bay, Toronto, Boston or Florida. There’s no guarantee that they will be able to build on this season’s success — much less even qualify for the playoffs.
And yet, it doesn’t mean that the team is turning back into a pumpkin.
Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, who have been the team’s best forwards in the playoffs, are both under the age of 22. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who has shown flashes of being a top-two centre, is only 20. Alexander Romanov, who got lost in the numbers game on defence, is 21. There’s a bright future there. But there is also a window that is closing.
As good as Price has been in the playoffs, he will be 34 next month and has struggled for years to put together a solid regular season. Defenceman Shea Weber, who also turns 35 next month, is on borrowed time.
And with a large chunk of the roster heading to unrestricted free agency, including Phillip Danault, Joel Armia and Corey Perry, no one knows who will even be on the team next season.
“It’s a journey, right?” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, whose team before getting over the hump, lost in the Stanley Cup final, lost in the conference final and got swept in the first round. “I’m sure that there were a couple of teams out there that went right into winning, but I can’t think of any of them off the top of my head. You’ve got to remember: Only one team can win. So, there’s a lot of teams in there that get gut-punched.”
Right now, it’s the Canadiens who are doubled-over, gasping for breath. Once they recover, maybe they will punch their way back here.
Or maybe, we’re in for another 28-year wait.
Canada’s Damian Warner picked up right where he left off in the decathlon. Now, he’s two events away from a gold medal.
The London, Ont., native recorded an Olympic best — his third through eight events in Tokyo — with a time of 13.46 seconds in the 110-metre hurdles on Thursday in Japan. He then posted the third-farthest discus throw in the field at 48.67 metres and cleared a personal-best 4.90 metres in pole vault to maintain his spot atop the decathlon standings.
Warner now sits at 7,490 points, comfortably ahead of 21-year-old Australian Ashley Moloney in second (7,269).
“You go through the whole battle of the decathlon and when you finally finish and you get the result you’re looking for, there’s no greater feeling. If I finish this off, this is a dream come true,” Warner said.
The Canadian said he was particularly pleased with his pole vault, giving credit to his coaches for helping him improve one of his weaker events.
“They’ve been persistent and stuck with me, and I think there’s a lot more bars in my future, but I’m really happy with how today went and it’s time to finish this thing off,” Warner said.
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WATCH | Warner clears personal-best 4.90 metres in pole vault:
Fellow Canadian Pierce LePage, a 25-year-old making his Olympic debut, was fifth in Warner’s hurdles heat, seventh overall in discus and eighth in pole vault, but still managed to hold on to his third-place standing entering the day.
LePage’s 7,175 points put him just ahead of decathlon world-record holder and reigning silver medallist Kevin Mayer of France, who is sitting fourth at 7,129.
“If you’re doing not bad in most of your decathlon then you know something good is going to happen at the end,” LePage, of Whitby, Ont., said.
WATCH | Warner wins 110m hurdles:
In hurdles, Warner sped to the front of the pack quickly and never relinquished his lead, despite knocking a gate over in the process. He waved and said hi to partner Jen Cotten, their son Theo and his mom after he crossed the finish line.
Despite the Olympic best, Warner himself has done better, setting the world-best of 13.36 seconds at the Hypo-Meeting in Austria in May. That time helped the Canadian set a national record of 8,995 points overall — the fourth best in history.
LePage, of Whitby, Ont., posted a time of 14.39 seconds in the hurdles. His personal best is 14.05. He threw 47.14 metres in discus, also well off his personal best of 50.28.
Warner also fell short of both his career best (50.26) and season best (48.74) in discus, with his first throw standing as his top result.
Pole vault has previously caused Warner problems, like at the 2019 Commonwealth Games when he failed to record a height. But the 31-year-old persevered after missing his first two attempts at 4.90 metres to clear his third. Moloney, who cleared five metres, only gained 30 points on the Canadian in the event.
LePage, who said the heat in Tokyo was more excruciating for the pole vault because of the length of the event, also cleared five metres.
“Want to do better in all three [events] but they weren’t too off where I wanted to be. That pole vault was something I’ve never experienced before — really hot out there. But nothing you can do besides look forward to the next two events and make up those points,” he said.
The decathlon wraps up with javelin and the 1,500-metre beginning Thursday at 6:15 a.m. ET.
Thursday’s results extended Warner’s lead in the competition where the top-ranked decathlete is eyeing his first Olympic gold medal. Warner earned bronze at the 2016 Rio Games.
Warner is coming off an extraordinary winter that saw him train in an empty, unheated hockey arena that his coaches converted to a multi-events facility after COVID-19 shut down the University of Western Ontario fieldhouse. He and his coaches built a long jump pit, brought in a pole jump pit, built a throwing circle and laid down a 40-metre section of track.
On Wednesday in Tokyo, Warner tied his decathlon world-best in the 100-metre, then put down a long jump of 8.24 metres, 0.04 off his world best and an Olympic record in the sport.
WATCH | Warner ties 100m world best:
TOKYO — Laurence Vincent-Lapointe’s long, winding road to the Tokyo Olympics has led her to the podium.
The Canadian canoeist won silver in the final of the women’s C-1 200-metre race at a sweltering Sea Forest Waterway on Wednesday.
The 29-year-old paddler from Trois-Rivières, Que., finished the sprint in a time of 46.786 seconds.
“I pushed until the end,” Vincent-Lapointe said. “No matter how many people I thought were catching up to me, I was just like, ‘No, no, no. You cannot drop, you cannot let go. Just push until the end.’
“It’s just crazy. I have 13 world championships, but this silver at the Games is so different.”
Nevin Harrison (45.932) of the United States took the gold, while Ukraine’s Liudmyla Luzan (47.034) claimed bronze in temperatures that felt like a staggering 44 C with the humidity on a windy Tokyo Bay.
Katie Vincent of Mississauga, Ont., finished 8th with a time of 47.834 seconds.
“We push each other a lot, especially on the water,” said 25-year-old. “That teamwork goes a long way on a day like today. I’m disappointed I can’t be on the podium.
“But to see a Canadian flag rise today is a huge plus and something I think all Canadians in the paddling community will remember.”
A dominant canoeing force for more than a decade, Vincent-Lapointe had to wait for the sport’s international federation and the International Olympic Committee to make room for women to race at the Olympics.
That finally happened in Japan.
She had won a combined six world titles in C-1 and C-2 500 metres by the time women’s canoe was added to the Olympics in 2017 ahead of the Tokyo Games, and went on to win five more by the end of 2018.
But then her life and career descended into controversy.
Vincent-Lapointe had an “adverse analytical finding” in July 2019 during an out-of-competition drug test. She was suspended and missed the 2019 world championship, but battled for reinstatement.
The International Canoe Federation cleared her to compete in January 2020, accepting that Vincent-Lapointe was the victim of third-party contamination of a banned substance.
The ICU believed her assertion that a trace amount of ligandrol was transferred to her via her ex-boyfriend’s body fluids.
“I had the feeling I would make (the Olympics),” Vincent-Lapointe said. “In my head … I was like probably, ‘Fake it ’til you make it.’ In my head I was trying to convince myself, ‘You’re going to be at the Games, you’re going to be at the Games.’
“Even the darkest moments I just clung to it, to that feeling. It was so relieving when I finally got my spot in. It was just like, ‘All right, I had the right to believe in myself that I would make it to the Games.’ But once I came here I was like, ‘All right, you made it to the Games, now do your best.'”
And while COVID-19 was a devastating gut-punch to sports and society around the world, it gave Vincent-Lapointe an opportunity to get back in the groove.
Missing the 2019 worlds, however, meant she still had to qualify for Tokyo, and the global pandemic didn’t allow her to travel to North American qualifying events.
Vincent-Lapointe also lost to Vincent in the women’s C-1 200 metres at March’s national trials in Burnaby, B.C.
Canoe Kayak Canada declined to send paddlers to international World Cups this spring because of the pandemic, but ultimately awarded Vincent-Lapointe an Olympic quota spot following a performance review.
Next up for Vincent-Lapointe and Vincent is the women’s C-2, where they are medal contenders, on Friday and Saturday.
In other races involving Canadians on Thursday, kayakers Brian Malfesi of Maple Ridge, B.C., and Vincent Jourdenais Ste-Basile-le-Grand, Que., were sixth in the ‘B’ final of the men’s K-2 1,000 metres, while Toronto’s Nicholas Matveev was sixth in the ‘B’ final of the men’s K-1 200 metres.
But the day — clearly — belonged to Vincent-Lapointe.
“Going through all I had to go through the last two years, if you’d ask me if I’d do it again, even knowing a silver medal comes at the end of this, I’m not sure I would say yes,” she said in French. “It was extremely difficult.
“Everybody told me this week that with all I went through, I must be mentally the strongest here.”
Now she has a silver medal to prove it.
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Damian Warner became the first Canadian to ever win gold in the decathlon in Tokyo on Thursday, setting an Olympic record in the process as the only athlete to eclipse the 9,000-point plateau at the Games.
The 31-year-old capped off the arduous 10-discipline event with a fifth-place finish in the 1,500-metre race, cementing his place in history with a total of 9,018 points. No other Canadian, and only three other athletes ever, have broken the 9,000-point barrier in a decathlon.
The previous Olympic record was 8,893 points, shared between Ashton Eaton of the United States (2016) and Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic (2004). Kevin Mayer, who won silver in this year’s Games, holds the world record of 9,126 points.
“It’s been a long two days,” Warner said after the race. “When you go through the whole battle of the decathlon and finally finish and you get the result you were looking for, there is no greater feeling. This is a dream come true.”
WELCOME TO THE 9,000 CLUB, DAMIAN WARNER
Canada’s Damian Warner has won GOLD in the decathlon
He has surpassed the elusive 9,000 points mark and set a new Olympic record pic.twitter.com/JGEly8b93U
— CBC Olympics (@CBCOlympics) August 5, 2021
Canada had two men in the decathlon. Pierce LePage of Whitby, Ont., competing in his first-ever Olympics, finished fifth after 10 events with a personal-best score of 8,604.
Warner, who won bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics, was a force to be reckoned with at Tokyo. He set Olympic decathlon records in the long jump and 110-metre hurdles, and tied his decathlon world mark in the 100 metres. He also set a personal best in the pole vault.
Warner crossed the finish line of the 1,500 metres in four minutes 31.08 seconds. The time and fifth-place finish gave him 738 points in the final event, enough for the Olympic record.
“When I came around 1,200, I think I was 3 seconds off the pace and I was just like ‘if I’m gonna get those 9000 points I have to go now,'” Warner said after the race. “I just gave it everything I had. It wasn’t pretty, but we got the job done.”
In the track and field community, Olympic decathlon winners are considered the “world’s greatest athlete” and, draped in the Canadian flag with a broad smile on his face, Warner was met by his peers with congratulations befitting that description.
“By definition, he’s Canada’s greatest ‘Athlete,'” Adam van Koeverden, an Olympic gold medalist in sprint kayaking who is now an MP, tweeted. “Extraordinary achievement!”
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