Michel Therrien: Giant Killer

I would like to add a new term to the hockey lexicon: Giant Killer.

The definition is as follows:

Giant Killer, n. A hockey coach (and team) capable of defeating the President’s Trophy winner in Stanley Cup playoff competition. (Before the President’s Trophy was first awarded in 1986 it could also mean a coach and team capable of defeating the team with the best regular season record in playoff competition).

Giant killing is a unique skill in the history of NHL coaching but not a rare one. In 97 seasons of NHL hockey the team with the best regular season record has gone down in defeat in the playoffs 55 times. In the President’s Trophy era it is much more common: the President’s trophy winner has been slain 20 out of 28 times. Still Montreal head coach Michel Therrien took a major step in his career as an NHL head coach when he led the Habs to a stunning upset victory over the Bruins in the second round of the playoffs.

Even though Montreal stole home-ice advantage over the Bruins in game one, they allowed Boston to steal it back. It required goalie Carey Price to play the two greatest games of his NHL career to re-steal the thunder and glory of the Stanley Cup chase; allowing only one goal in two games against one of the most potent offenses in the NHL today. It required defensive stalwarts P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, and Mike Weaver to apply considerable muscle in shutting down Boston’s top guns like Milan Lucic and David Krejci. It required that the Canadiens forwards put in an impressive ensemble effort with Thomas Vanek, Max Pacioretty, Lars Eller, Thomas Plekanec, Danny Briere, and Brendan Gallagher all pooling their talents to seal the victory.

Montreal’s victory is astonishing in that they defeated a team used to facing and overcoming adversity; a team adept at winning pressure games and killing giants in their own right (which they did in 2011). And yet the Bruins forgot what made them a great team. They forgot the old Japanese proverb which goes, “when you’re winning, tighten your helmet strap.” Instead Montreal knocked their blocks off; out-hitting and out-hustling the Bruins during those last two games.

Montreal has not been to the conference finals since 2010, but this is a different Canadiens team now. They are hungrier and more focused than they have been in the past. They will face a Rangers team flush with its own improbable victory over a favored Pittsburgh Penguins. If Montreal wins then reaching the Stanley Cup finals will be a long overdue homecoming for the Habs who haven’t been to the big dance since 1993. More Michel Therrien returning to the finals will be even more significant. A conference finals win will add more points to his coaching value (from a +24 to +29). Winning the Cup will elevate Therrien to the ranks of the top fifty hockey coaches of all time.

The Canadiens and their coach are knocking on the door of greatness, the question remains is whether they have the will and the strength remaining to enter and make themselves at home in the halls of Stanley Cup championship immortality? Can they overcome the curse of Marty McSorley once and for all?

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