NHL playoffs 2013: Why you should root for the Montreal Canadiens

@dr_habs on twitter

Andrew Berkshire from Habs blog Eyes On The Prize argues that it's okay to root for this current crop of Montreal Canadiens.

You're going to root for the Habs this year in the playoffs, and I don't even really need to convince you. This is because you know that they're the ultimate underdog in your heart of hearts.

"What do you mean? They've been at the top of the Eastern Conference all year long, that's not an underdog."

Oh really? If I were to tell you that the worst team in the East last season would add Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong, and Francis Bouillon in the offseason, and their franchise goaltender had the worst statistical season of his career, would you bet on that team? Surely you would not.

What if that team also boasted four players 5'9 or shorter, sometimes five when young Gabriel Dumont was used as an injury fill in?

Fans and media have been saying for years that small teams can't succeed in the NHL, yet here are the Canadiens playing the best possession hockey the franchise has seen in 15 years, right there with the Big Bad Bruins from the very first game.

At the beginning of the year we were told that P.K. Subban was a locker room cancer, and would surely hold out until the Canadiens were forced to trade him. He then signed, and put up a Norris Trophy caliber season as the team's MVP.

The words "No Excuses" are above the door to the Canadiens' dressing room, but the real story of this season is redemption.

Last season the Habs were the butts of jokes, incompetently run and incompetently coached. With the lottery pick they managed to snag, they took a player at 3rd overall that managed 2 goals and 2 assists in 8 games over the whole year, after missing most of the season rehabbing major knee surgery.

The real story of this season is redemption.

That young player was Alex Galchenyuk, who went on to lead all rookies with 26 even strength points, and played every game this season for his new club after adding a World Junior gold medal to his CV with Team USA.

Sticking with knees and redemption, Andrei Markov had played even fewer games than Galchenyuk in the previous years, playing just 20 in the last 2 full seasons. After 21 games in the KHL with a mysterious injury causing him to miss games, many speculated that Markov was done as an impact player.

Then the season began, Markov scored the game winning goal in the Habs' first 3 victories, played in every game, led the team in ice time, notched 10 goals and 30 points, and capped it off with another game winner in the final game of the season.

Last season when he was acquired in exchange for Mike Cammalleri, Rene Bourque was absolutely atrocious for half a season, looking disinterested and failing to replace the departed sniper's production. This season though, Bourque simplified his game and was effective on every line he played with, putting up his best possession season since 2009-10 while playing tough minutes.

Brian Gionta, captain of the Canadiens and representative of the team's identity, nearly had his career ended in 2012. Tearing muscle and ligaments in his bicep area caused nerve damage that doctors feared could cause him to lose control of his hand and forearm. A long rehab and more missed games than he's ever seen in a season, and the captain played in every single game, notching 14 goals while playing against the opponent's top lines.

In 2008 Michael Ryder spent most of the playoffs and a good portion of the season either on the bench or in the pressbox throwing paper airplanes. Yet he too was given a shot at redemption. Acquired just over a third of the way through the season in exchange for Erik Cole, Ryder finished first on the team in goals and put up 21 points in 27 games wearing his new/old jersey.

This isn't the 2008 Canadiens team, riding a hot powerplay and goaltending to a seed they didn't deserve, with cocky fans raving about how they were guaranteed a 25th Stanley Cup and how it "Felt like 1993". No, this is a team that has been humbled by failure, and come out stronger for it.

This is a team you can get behind, that you can root for.

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