2021 was quite an eventful year for the Habs. There were plenty of highs and plenty of lows. But what will our writers remember the most from the past 12 months?
Writers were not allowed to simply pick the playoffs – they had to pick one thing from the postseason if they were picking something from there.
Tom Haapanen: Game 6 OT against Las Vegas: It looked like the Golden Knights were about to tie the series as Chandler Stephenson flicked the puck to his left, and Max Pacioretty snapped it on goal. Carey Price did what the playoff Carey Price does, stopping it with his butterfly-position pads and snatching the rebound.
And then … Vegas put their fourth line on the ice, confident about keeping Danault, Gallagher, and Lehkonen off the score sheet. Alec Martinez took a shot from the point on a set play, and it bounced off Price’s shoulder to the empty ice on the right side. Phillip Danault was quick on the puck and fed it to Brendan Gallagher, who immediately streaked into the neutral ice, accompanied by Artturi Lehkonen. Danault outskated Tomas Nosek, making it a Habs two-on-three.
Danault skates hard, picks up the puck from Gallagher, and slips across the blue line near centre, with Lehkonen on the left side. He slips through between Zach Whitecloud and Martinez. Whitecloud is making a shot impossible, though, so Danault passes the puck through Whitecloud’s feet — and gets it to Lehkonen.
Lehkonen, who has built a reputation over the years for not being able to put a puck into an open net, gets the puck on his stick for a one-timer. Robin Lehner, the Knights’ giant ace goalie, is tracking the puck and moving over. But Lehkonen snaps the shot from the faceoff dot, and picks the top inside corner of the net, above Lehner’s blocker, to claim the goal, the win, and the series for the Habs, and to take them to the Stanley Cup Final.
This goal brings together everything that brought Habs success in the playoffs: A clutch save by Price; a lucky rebound; an opportunistic move by Danault to grab the puck; hard work by three of the hardest-working forwards to get to the offensive zone on an odd-man break; another assist by Danault, so crucial throughout; and a clinching goal by Lehkonen, who had worked so hard for his moment of glory.
The Habs didn’t manage to win their final series, but this moment, these 30 seconds of play against Vegas, and the ensuing celebration, thoroughly crystallized what the 2020-2021 Montreal Canadiens were all about.
Allan Katz: Imagine searching for the most incredible memory of 2021 and discovering a string of moments that were so stunning, so shocking, so preposterous that the human mind is incapable of remembering them and even if you do remember; the consequences of this knowledge could potentially drive you insane. I am about to share with you this series of events, but to protect you from doing harm to yourself or others I will first assure you with a sequence of bald-faced lies so you don’t believe a word I say. Almost every word I write will be satirical in nature. The management of HabsWorld in no way takes responsibility for the following words. Almost none of this story is true. In fact, the only true parts are evident to the sane mind. Regardless, please sit down and do not operate any heavy machinery while reading this. Now take a deep breath and let’s start with the back story.
Before their 2017 expansion draft, Vegas made a deal with the Prince of Darkness to have a record-breaking draft and a team so fine it would make it to the Stanley Cup Final. El Diablo delivered taking Vegas all the way to the finals. But for every gift from the Lord of All Evil comes a consequence and the Ancient Evil Force picked the perfect time to get his pound of flesh by allowing the pitiful Habs to humiliate Vegas in the playoffs this past year.
Ever wonder why Marc Bergevin wore a red jacket to guarantee improbable win after improbable win during the run towards the cup? You see, the Devil made him do it. Bergevin had a deal with Satan that the Habs would beat all Canadian teams in the playoffs. That deal did not include beating Vegas; that win was for Lucifer’s own pleasure. The Tampa series did not have any tomfoolery from Beetlejuice which simply allowed the best team to win and with no cosmic interference, the result was as expected: an easy victory for Tampa.
Of course, any sane person would assume I’m making up this story except for one shocking event that saw the Father of Lies possess Jeff Petry and terrify us with his dark soul emanating from Petry’s eyes. The Ruler of Hell got his payback this season by decimating the Habs just after they had almost climbed to the top of Mount Stanley. Beelzebub injured the top three defencemen of whom none have recovered yet, sent talent scurrying across the border, cursed current Habs young and old, damned every Bergevin trade, had them draft a sinner, and made the red jacket so itchy Bergevin developed a rash so hideous it is beyond a polite person’s ability to describe.
Sadly, Petry has not recovered his Mojo since. Petry is inexplicably not the same man this year and for those who don’t understand why…now you know… the rest of the story.
Please be aware this is not the management’s opinion of what really happened. It’s only a fanciful interpretation of a really weird finger injury that resulted in bloodshot eyes. But I ask you, the reader, to make your own conclusion; was Petry possessed because the Ruler of Hell was involved, or did he just look weird because he hurt a finger and who doesn’t get bloodshot eyes from a finger injury? What is the correct answer? Only The Shadow knows.
Brian La Rose: While there were plenty of positives from 2021, my lingering memory is from one of the more disappointing moments of the season. Following the end of the series against Tampa Bay, we saw something that I don’t think occurs very often when a team comes up on the losing end of the Stanley Cup Final – most of the team hustling to console their captain, Shea Weber.
It seemed really bizarre at the time and we found out why it happened soon after with it being revealed that Weber was playing through some serious injuries, ones that likely have ended his playing career. You wouldn’t have known it from how he performed in the playoffs though.
There were plenty of positive things to remember from 2021 (in between all the negative) but in the end, that moment likely being the end of Weber’s impressive career is one that’s going to linger for me. Everyone wants to go out a winner but this was still a memorable and impressive end for him.
Peter Longo: My favourite memory from the 2020-2021 season has to be the opening 12 games of the season. The team came out flying – with virtually no injuries and they put up a tremendous record of 8-2-2 outscoring their opponents by a wide margin of 48-33 in the process. The entire team looked great – the defence was playing great and the Edmundson – Petry pairing was working out better than expected and the Chiarot – Weber picked up where they left off the previous season. Alexander Romanov came in and made some big hits early on and made a good early impression on the third pairing.
The big offseason additions of Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli were paying huge dividends as these two led the team to victories on several occasions, demonstrating the vast improvement in team depth. The Tatar-Danault-Gallagher line picked up where they left off and Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi were off to good starts following up on their impressive playoff performances the previous year. Everything was clicking and the team was in perfect harmony.
These first few games signified to me that this was a real team and if they kept playing that way, the team legitimately had a good chance to go deep in the playoffs. Eventually, the team cooled off in the regular season with a condensed schedule, some injuries to players, etc. But we saw that team re-appear in the playoffs and indeed delivered an inspirational season not seen since 1993.
Ken MacLeod: The best Canadiens moment of 2021 was an easy choice for me. It came on a play that gave the Habs new life in a playoff series that was all but over. It also gave fans a glimpse of what was to come from two of the team’s rising young stars.
We all remember how dismal the Montreal-Toronto series had turned prior to puck drop for Game 5 in Toronto. After losing the first game at home, the Leafs reeled off three straight wins – the last being a laughably easy 4-0 shutout at the Bell Centre — and were licking their chops in anticipation of finishing off the Habs at home before facing an already waiting Winnipeg Jets team that had swept the Edmonton Oilers.
The stars were all aligned for the Maple Leafs for Game 5, but someone forgot to tell the players. The Canadiens, looking nothing like the doormats from Game 4, deservedly led 2-0 after the first period and extended their lead to 3-0 early in the second. But a goal just two minutes later from Zach Hyman gave the Leafs hope and a pair of third-period goals from Jake Muzzin tied the score and sent the game to overtime.
Toronto, having stormed back from a three-goal deficit, came into the overtime with momentum on their side…which made what happened next extremely deflating and a harbinger of things to come.
In the overtime’s first minute of play, the Canadiens line of Toffoli-Suzuki-Caufield was on the forecheck when Maple Leafs forward Alex Galchenyuk made the fatal mistake of trying to complete a blind pass from the right boards near the blueline to a defenceman about halfway across the ice. It’s apparent from videos of the play from different angles that Cole Caufield may have been trying to fox Galchenyuk into thinking he was dropping closer to the net on the play, but whether the Toronto forward was fooled or not is redundant: Caufield picked off the pass cleanly and steamed up the ice full-tilt with Suzuki on a two-on-none against Toronto goaltender Jack Campbell. Caufield shuffled the puck over to Suzuki as they crossed the Leafs’ blueline and Suzuki gave it right back to the guy with the shoot-first mentality when they were about 20 feet from the net – and Caufield surprised the hockey universe by instantly snapping the puck back to Suzuki, who flicked it past a helpless Campbell for one of the more shocking overtime goals in Montreal Canadiens history.
It all happened so fast, even the announcers were confused; both Canadian and American broadcast crews had thought the puck went off a post before calling it a goal. The cameras, of course, went straight from the wild goal celebration to a shocked Galchenyuk, who was having a great series until that point. It can be argued that this was the beginning of the end of his hopes for a new contract with Toronto.
The overtime win put the best-of-seven series at three games to two in favour of the Leafs, but the momentum had clearly shifted. With Game 6 in Montreal seeing 2,500 fans in the building — the first live fans for the series – the Maple Leaf players realized they were facing a disciplined team with rising confidence and nothing to lose. They knew they would have to bring their own games to another level if they hoped to win the series.
They couldn’t. The Habs won Game 6 in overtime as well and the Leafs, by now completely deflated, barely showed up for Game 7 and the Montreal Canadiens were able to pull off one of the greatest playoff upsets in the team’s history.
Dave Woodward: Lehkonen’s goal, which gave the Canadiens their first trip to the Stanley Cup final since 1993. Habs fans had better savour that moment. There will not be another trip to the Stanley Cup Final for the foreseeable future.