Stu Cowan: Do the Canadiens have another fan-tastic finish in them?


Habs faithful are hoping for an encore in Game 6 Saturday as the Bell Centre welcomes back fans for the first time since March 10, 2020.

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How many of you thought the Canadiens were done going into Game 5 Thursday night in Toronto?

I know I did after they scored only four goals in the first four games of their first-round playoff series against the Maple Leafs while falling behind 3-1 and facing elimination in Game 5.

But, as I have written several times, the only consistent thing about the Canadiens this season has been their inconsistency and it was on display again Thursday night.

After storming out to a 2-0 lead only eight minutes into the game on two goals by Joel Armia and then taking a 3-0 lead when Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored at 4:52 of the second period, the wheels started to fall off.

The Leafs fought back to tie it 3-3 and send the game to overtime while holding all the momentum.

But former Canadien Alex Galchenyuk made a bonehead pass (sound familiar?) when the Leafs had the puck in the offensive zone that resulted in a two-man breakaway the other way with Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki. After three pretty passes back and forth, Suzuki scored the winner only 59 seconds into OT.

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That’s the same Caufield who the Canadiens didn’t think was good enough to play in the first two games of this series and made him a healthy scratch while they scored only three goals while splitting the first two games in Toronto. Kotkaniemi, who has two goals in this series and six goals in 14 playoff games including last season, was also made a healthy scratch in Game 1.

Go figure.

Now the stage is set for Game 6 Saturday at the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m., CBC, SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) with 2,500 fans allowed in the stands. The Game 6 tickets were first made available to Canadiens season-ticket holders with three price ranges: $190, $260 and $330 per ticket. Since then the economic law of supply-and-demand has kicked into full gear and the asking price for tickets on the Ticketmaster website Friday afternoon had soared well above $5,000, including service fees of more than $1,000. 

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I wonder if some of those tickets might end up in the hands of wealthy Toronto fans hoping to see the Leafs win a playoff series for the first time since 2004 with hopes of winning their first Stanley Cup since 1967. COVID-19 travel restrictions will make it difficult for them to get to Montreal, but often when there’s a will there’s a way and it wouldn’t be a shock to hear some “Go Leafs Go!” chants Saturday night at the Bell Centre, which often happens when the Leafs are in town for a regular-season game.

When the Leafs’ Jason Spezza was asked Friday about the possibility of Toronto fans paying top dollar and making efforts to come to Montreal for Game 6, he said: “I saw that (travelling road show) first hand in Ottawa (while with the Senators). One of the coolest things playing for a club like this is when we go on the road, we see the support we have. So, no, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m sure the Canadiens will try and control who gets the tickets. But it never ceases to amaze me the support the Leafs get on the road.”

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The Leafs — and their fans — were ready to celebrate Thursday night in Toronto, but the Canadiens spoiled the party. Saturday night’s game will be the first at the Bell Centre with fans since March 10 last year when the Canadiens lost 4-2 to the Nashville Predators. It’s remarkable to think back now about how much has happened in the world since then.

“I think for the fans here in Montreal, so passionate about the team, going through that tough time with the virus and all the restrictions and to be able to see people there (at the Bell Centre) is not only for hockey, I think it’s a good sign for what people in Quebec, here in Montreal, in Canada — what people went through,” Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme said Friday. “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel there. It’s really positive and I think it’s great for hockey, hockey fans, but I think it’s a great sign for the population in general.

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“We’ve talked about we have an opportunity to do something special,” Ducharme added. “And when opportunities come like this, you’ve got to make the most out of it. The guys really played for each other (in Game 5) and fought hard. … Now it’s behind us and we’ve got to prepare for tomorrow. For us it’s tomorrow night again, like the last couple of months, tomorrow night is the most important game of the year.”

Who’s going to win Game 6?

At this point, your guess is as good as mine.

But it should be a lot of fun no matter who you’re cheering for and whether you spent a small fortune to be there in person or are watching at home on TV.

After everything we’ve all been through, Hockey Night in Canada is finally getting back to normal and that’s something to celebrate.

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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