Habs Advance As Lightning Strikes Twice; The Other Lightning
Back in the day, Montréal had virtually everything its own way.
What with territorial rights to French-Canadian players and the infamous C forms, Les Habitants built a juggernaut that rode roughshod over the Original Six in much the same way the Yankees dictated happenings in the American League for so long.
While the Bronx Bombers would punish AL teams for not 'playing ball' on favorable trades by influencing schedule-makers to put them in the miscreant's park on less lucrative weekdays, Les Glorieux merely needed to capitalize on being the home team.
There were few sporting environments like the old Montréal Forum. The ghosts of legends reside there. The entire city and its surroundings channeled their very essence into that cathédrale de glace, and their representatives who packed it to the rafters let it be known that this was a special venue that commanded special respect.
It wasn't surprising that even the referees could be influenced by the fans' demand for that special respect. The same reverence seemed to come from the league office. And, granted, it occurs in every sport.
Hockey referees can claim otherwise, but the Canadiens seem to exude luck at home when they need it the most. And in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lightning will definitely attest to it.
The 'Ning dug their own hole by doling turnover after turnover to the Habs in their first two games at home. Without goalie Ben Bishop and leading scorer Ondřej Palát due to injury, they couldn't afford to be as careless as they were. But Game 3 in La Belle Provence looked to be their turning point. They fought back against an early deficit and seemingly earned a tie in a game they had to have. But a strange thing happened:
Now, an argument can be made that the letter of the rule was followed, but if that was the case, why did it take the referee so long to wave the goal off? It was almost as if he was racking his brain for a justification. The perception this left was nothing short of sardonic.
And then, last night, after Tampa Bay had finally caught up with Montréal on the scoreboard in the game's late stages, the officials appeared to, as they say, let the players decide the game. Hooking, grabbing, and slashing abounded. It's a miracle knives weren't drawn. Finally, with just less than two minutes to go, a raised arm appeared out of nowhere, and Lightning d-man Cedric Paquette was whistled for tripping.
Until that point, replacement goalie Kristers Gudlevskis -- last seen performing magic for Latvia in the Sochi Olympics -- had been standing on his head in relief of Anders Lindbäck. Until that point:
That was it. Les Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge will move on. Lightning coach John Cooper and his charges may still be wondering what hit them. Perhaps they'll only know for certain if they can conjure up a ouija board and ask the ghosts.