Last night was a dream, dimly overshadowed by the spectre of a nightmare. Just imagine if Paul Holmgren had accepted Bob Gainey's offer for Jaro Halak earlier in the year. Or don't, if you find the idea as horrifying as I do. But as I watched what should have been certain goals disappear into Halak's glove, and shot after shot bounce harmlessly away onto the sticks of Habs defenders, the thought crossed my mind more than once. What if?
Fortunately for us, Holmgren thought whatever Gainey demanded was too rich for his blood and Jaro remains a Hab. And what a Hab! Do you remember when he first came to Montreal? On his mask was a painting of Patrick Roy in '93, hoisting the Cup. He said at the time that, as a boy, he watched Roy and tried to emulate his winning, competitive attitude. Mission accomplished, with a vengeance.
I don't go back as far as some of you die-hards, but I remember the infamous Game Three overtime Roy played against the Rangers in '86. I watched with clenched hands and knotted stomach, and growing disbelief. Thirteen Rangers shots peppered Roy and he stopped them all, before the Habs finally mustered a shot of their own for the game-winner. That game showed us what Roy could be for the Habs. It was the first indication of what the skinny kid was made of, and it's become part of the Canadiens' rich team lore. Last night Halak put in the best goaltending performance by a Montreal Canadiens goalie we've seen in the 24 years since.
His typically self-deprecating comments post-game: "Just another day at the office," "You have to be lucky," didn't channel Roy's innate cockiness, but the on-ice results were the same. The Caps looked stymied, frustrated and amazed all at once, just like the Rangers did all those years ago.
It's premature to talk Cup or legend at this point. The game, glorious as it was, was just one game. Legends are made when those types of spectacular individual performances are part of something bigger. Halak knows that, and, I think, so do his teammates.
Hal Gill and Josh Gorges once again helped Halak lock down the win with their dedicated, sacrificial kind of D. Mike Cammalleri buried his chances as he's been doing all series, making up for his horrid post-injury slump at the end of the regular season. Gomez, Plekanec and Gionta played very well at both ends of the ice, providing some dangerous chances and reliable D. Lapierre woke up with a vengeance. Markov was The General on the back end, and rookie PK Subban, whose first NHL playoff game was almost completely overshadowed by Halak's performance, didn't look out of place at all.
Last night was a whole-team win, as any underdog will tell you. Even in a great team win, though, there can be individual brilliance, and so the night belonged to Halak. Watching him last night made me shudder to imagine him in another team's sweater. Post-game, I wondered what would have happened if, instead of Petr Svoboda, the Habs had drafted a goalie fifth overall in 1984; the year they picked Roy in the third round? What if the organization had had a star in which it had invested a lot of time and hope, whom it wanted to help push to succeed ahead of Roy? What if Serge Savard had wanted, say, Steve Penney, to have every chance, to the detriment of Roy? What if Roy had become angry with the situation and asked to be traded? The situation doesn't bear thinking about.
I like Carey Price, and I'm a big proponent of the organization re-signing both goalies. Whatever happens, though, Halak proved something last night. He's a winner, and he must be retained. The idea of him stopping 53 shots in an elimination game for some rival team is enough to give you bad dreams. Last night, the dreams were all good, with only one outstanding question: Can he do it again?
If he can, let's hope it's Wednesday night. I'm not done dreaming yet, and I hope the team isn't either. If you're going to dream, you might as well dream big.