NHL

Montreal going giddy over surprising Habs

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Michael Farber
4/9/2008 2:21:12 AM
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In my almost three decades in Montreal, this hockey-obsessed city has never been quite this giddy.

In 1979, six weeks after I immigrated from the United States, the Canadiens captured their 22nd Stanley Cup - a clear cut case of noblesse oblige.

Those were the Canadiens of Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, Serge Savard and Larry Robinson.

They captured their fourth straight Cup at a time when winning a championship in Montreal was no more of a spring phenomenon than potholes or drinking beer on a terrace. The mayor could announce that the Stanley Cup parade would be held on the usual route and everyone knew what he meant.

Indeed, winning cups were so routine then, Montrealers never even bothered to riot.

Unlike, say, in 1986. That was the year of the "Childrens' Crusade," bolstered by Patrick Roy - a rookie goaltender who talked to his goal posts - and other neophytes like forwards Claude Lemieux and Brian Skrudland. That team did affect the civic mood.

Did it make Montreal happy? Absolutely.

That Cup was an unexpected delight - like putting your hands in the pocket of a jacket you haven't worn since fall and finding a long-forgotten $20 bill. A small, simple pleasure.

The spring of 1993 was coated in an even thicker layer of pixie dust.

It featured the comeback against the rival Quebec Nordiques, the Islanders' upset of the powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins, Marty McSorley's illegal stick in Game 2 of the final and Roy's 10 straight overtime victories.

The surprises kept coming, one after the other like Russian nesting dolls.

And now, Montreal has fallen madly in love with other Russian dolls. A year ago, many of the Canadiens' problems could be traced to Russian players that included Alex Kovalev's critical comments of the organization and Sergei Samsonov's stunning ineptitude. 

Now, the Russians and Belarussians have become the city's - and perhaps destiny's - darlings.

After head coach Guy Carbonneau praised Kovalev in March, the 21,273 fans at the sold out Bell Centre took up a chant of "MVP!" for the team's most valuable player. Andrei Markov has played Norris Trophy-calibre defence, and the flying Kostitsyn brothers - Andrei and Sergei - have been important parts of the National Hockey League's most balanced attack.

The visceral warmth that envelops this team is remarkable given that just last fall, Montreal was atwitter when it appeared Carbonneau would not dress any French Canadian forward for a game for the first time in, well, franchise history. In fact, Mathieu Dandenault did play that night, but the city found itself immersed in one of its static and sterile linguistic debates.

It's funny that six months and a Northeast Division title later, the only flap is from those ubiquitous 'CH' car flags.

The fans collectively sing at the Bell Centre now. They sing the old soccer song: "Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole.Ole, Ole!"

Even though there will always be a linguistic divide in my adopted city, Montreal has found a common tongue - Spanish.

In 2008, the dashing Canadiens have truly helped Montreal find its voice.

Michael Farber provides commentary and analysis as a member of the three-man panel on TSN The Reporters with Dave Hodge every Sunday. In addition to his role at TSN, Farber is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, covering hockey and has been with the magazine since 1994.

Montreal Canadiens fans (Photo: Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
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