Friday, April 23, 2010

Winning The Game

The Probability Of The Improbable

On February 10th, 2010, Lions in Winter carried this headline: Habs Put An Unlikely End To Caps' Streak.

It was a stumbling team beating a surging force. It was a more unlikely win than anything this Canadiens team faces now. The team was without Andrei Kostitsyn, Mike Cammalleri and Benoit Pouliot. The GM hadn't yet traded for Dominic Moore. Matt D'Agostini, David Desharnais and Ben Maxwell, they all played.

It now also stands as a prime example as to why the Canadiens have no course in giving up just yet, and neither do their fans.

You heard it here first

I don't Tobalev would ever claim to be prescient of outcomes. He merely takes some pride in learning from his experience. I like to think I am the same. If there's one thing that the internet has taught me, it is that "You heard it here first" is the most commonly uttered phrase (or some variation thereof) from sports fans.

This attitude is especially common come times like these, times where outcomes seem to be written in the stars. It was around in February as it is today:
After the game on Sunday most people thought that a loss tonight was a certainty. People, more interested in being right than supporting their team, were writing the Habs off and predicting 2 points, max, from this week. I can't, however, stress it enough how the Habs are the type of team that can do this. They can lose to the worst and can beat the best.
There must be a certain irony in quoting one's own material from months ago to prove how others can be wrong in these situations. It's not my point to prove our point of view, especially as I think that "Anything can happen" is about as vague a point of view as anyone can have. There's simply a frustration in me when all the fans I read and respect reach automatically and frantically for the "It's over, you heard it hear first" line. And, having learned from our loyal readers that a positive outlook is sometimes welcome in these hours of doom, we prefer only to support the team, their 45% chance of winning (or whatver it is) and the knowledge that there will be plenty of time for it to be summer when summer comes.

Reasons to put your hope on the line

Last season, the Canadiens found themselves in an elimination game against the top team in the East as well. At that time, we rallied for hope (and there was genuine hope). The situation was more dire than this. Down 3-0. No Andrei Markov. 10 straight losses to the Bruins. A Vezina goalie and a Norris defenceman to go with the top offense in the league.

This season is a bit different. For one thing, the Canadiens have rallied in games. A realist will say this series could be 2-2. Someone extremely optimistic would say it could be 3-1. That is nothing in and of itself, only wins count here, but at least we know the team has belief.

Another reason for hope is this game is taking place in Washington. The first time the Canadiens played there, Price played his best start of the autumn and the Canadiens won 3-2. They lost the return affair, but have since managed to take two games to OT in the Capitol city. The Habs haven't been slouches in Washington at all. If you take the Capitals home record seriously, then you'll know that the Habs have actually been near league-leading in their Verizon Centre play.

We have written and read about the Canadiens need to exploit Washington's weakness – their back end. I think having now experimented with two goalies (one small, one big) the coaches now know where the strategy lies. There is reason to hope that lessons learned from a 1-4 comeback, a 5-1 drubbing and a 6-3 will trickle through. I don't think even Jacques Martin can deny this now, and Montreal may actually set out on a gameplan that may even suit their forwards best – try to score as much as possible. The hope in this is that Pouliot might actually been unfettered, the Kostitsyns driven, the others right there with them.

There's also hope from other series in this spring's competition. The players watch results around the league as well and if they're anything like the rest of us, probably take some inspiration/comfort from what they see. Philly beating the Devils, Boston pushing Miller aside till now, LA running with Vancouver, Ottawa dogging out a win. Ottawa's win last night was of particular relevance. Ottawa took a defensive approach to facing some fantastic talent. For a game it worked. For three games, the lunacy of the thinking was exposed. Last night, the Senators just floored it. They took the lead, extended it and should have extended it more. When the Penguins stormed back and evened it up, the Senators never forgot that keeping the initiative was the key, and for 3 OT periods they pressed until they won.

The Montreal players can take a lot of hope from all this. They can learn from their experience of losing repeatedly only to step out some night later to look like a contender. They can draw form the experience of Markov (1-3 down before), Gomez and others who can explain the wackiness of playoff probabilities and certainties.

As fans, we can do the same. In fact, there's no point doing it any other way. As we've said, there'll be plenty of time for summer when it's summer. Nobody will care if you or I are right or wrong. Let that go. Enjoy the possibility of a win tonight.

Go Habs Go. GHG.

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