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Montreal's quest for NHL respect takes a wrong turn after Game 7 victory over Bruins

Nicholas J. Cotsonika
Yahoo Sports

BOSTON — The Montreal Canadiens want respect, but this isn’t how to get it – whining about how the pundits didn’t pick them, complaining about how the Boston Bruins treated them, acting like they accomplished something substantial by winning a second-round series. The Habs beat the Bruins. Congrats to them for the way they played. But the way they acted Wednesday night after their 3-1 victory in Game 7 showed not how far they have come, but how far they still have to go.

“Listen, it comes down to respect,” said Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban. “I think we’ve done a lot of great things in this league since I’ve been here. Our team’s done a lot. But we failed to get the respect that I think we deserve, and I think we earned that.”

Really? What great things have the Canadiens done in recent years? What respect do they deserve? What have they earned?

They went on a Cinderella run to the Eastern Conference final as an eighth seed in 2010. They took the Bruins to overtime of Game 7 in the first round in 2011 – and lost. They didn’t make the playoffs in 2011-12 and got a general manager and two coaches fired. They went back to the playoffs in 2013 – and lost to the seventh-seeded Ottawa Senators in five games.

Now they have swept the Tampa Bay Lightning, which didn’t have goaltender Ben Bishop because of injury, and they have upset the Bruins in seven games. They will face the New York Rangers in the conference final. Good stuff, but sorry, not great. Not yet. Not even close. Shouldn’t the standard be higher for a franchise that has won 24 Stanley Cups? Shouldn't they do at least some of what the Bruins have done before they put themselves on their level?

“In the first round, not a lot of people gave us a chance,” said Canadiens winger Danny Briere. “It was not even halfway split. It was in Tampa Bay’s favor. From what we read, I don’t know too many people that called this one.”

Of course most people picked the Bruins. The Habs had handled the Bruins well over the past couple of years, but the Bruins had actually done great things. The Bruins won the Cup in 2011. They returned to the Cup final last year. They won the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s best regular-season team this season. They had a Selke Trophy winner in Patrice Bergeron, a Norris Trophy winner in Zdeno Chara and a Vezina Trophy finalist in Tuukka Rask.

“Before this series, everybody was looking at them as the team that has all the experience, has two big lines, guys who have won Norris Trophies and the Selke,” said Subban, who was absolutely right – and also ignoring that, you know, he won the Norris himself last year. Did he feel disrespected then? Did he feel disrespected as the media sang his praises all series?

Athletes need fuel. Fine. The Canadiens filled up on the perceived slights in the media – the Habs are too small, the Bruins are physical – and they kept filling up in the series. They didn’t mention the garbage fans threw onto the ice and the racist tweets fans posted after Subban scored the double-overtime winner in Game 1, but they mentioned how Lucic flexed his muscles at Subban and how Shawn Thornton sprayed water on Subban from the bench in Game 5.

“I think at some point a lot of people were saying, ‘Don’t poke the bear,’ ” Subban said. “Well, I thought they gave us many reasons to keep competing throughout the series.”

“I think as the series went on, our motivation grew,” Weise said. “They just disrespected us in every single way, and I didn’t think they had any respect for us as a team.”

“Playing with that edge works for us,” Briere said. “We used some of their antics to motivate us. It’s a great feeling.”

Whatever works. The Canadiens showed no fear and responded with antics of their own. Weise flexed back at Lucic in Game 6. Brendan Gallagher, listed at 5-foot-9, tripped the 6-foot-9 Chara before a faceoff and stared him down – or up – in Game 7.

The Habs used their speed and their depth, and they competed hard. They frustrated the Bruins the whole series. They made them look slow and forced them into mistakes.

"We got them off their game a bit, and it might sound like something stupid to someone who’s not in this series, but it goes a long way," said Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty. "I believe in respect, and I believe in the hockey gods, and I believe in karma, and it gave us that extra motivation. We have respect for them, and we wanted that in return."

After falling into a 3-2 series hole, they rallied for a 4-0 victory on home ice in Game 6, and Subban made a bold statement about going to Boston for Game 7: “I can’t wait for the crowd, the noise, the energy in the building. I can’t wait to take that all way from them.” He said he did it to draw attention to himself and away from his teammates.

“I really don’t care what people have to say,” Subban said. “I really don’t care what the other team thinks. I don’t care what their fans think. If they hate me, great. Hate me. We’ll just keep winning, I’ll keep scoring and we’ll move on. That’s my attitude, and if I have to say something that creates something for my team, I will. I don’t think I had to, but I did it, anyway.”

The Habs backed up Subban’s bluster. They did indeed take the crowd, the noise and the energy in the building away from the Bruins in Game 7 by dominating early and taking a 2-0 lead midway through the second period. Shortly afterward, the Bruins’ power play was booed off the ice, and the Bruins were booed again when the Habs pinned them in their own zone. When it was over, as the fans filed out and the players shook hands, Lucic threatened Dale Weise and Habs defenseman Alexei Emelin.

“That’s just poor,” Weise said. “It’s just a poor way to lose.”

It was. But this was a poor way to win, too. Let’s be real: The Canadiens held on for dear life for the second half of Game 7 as the Bruins pressured. Jarome Iginla cut their lead to 2-1 with a deflection on a power play late in the second, and he hit the outside of the left post in the third – maybe the 11th time the Bruins struck iron in the series. It wasn’t until a puck went in off one of Chara’s skates on a power play late in the third that it was 3-1 and the Habs could celebrate. If not for Carey Price, his posts and his crossbar, this might have been different. The Bruins had 56.9 percent of the shot attempts in the seven games.

“Unfortunately everything we did seemed to be seen as disrespect in Montreal, and we heard a lot of that whining in terms of the series,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “But it had nothing to do with disrespect, and whether it’s flexing a muscle – that’s gamesmanship. It’s like that in every round. So it’s too bad it gets blown out of proportion. But you know what? They won the series, fair and square. They were the better team tonight, and you have to respect that.”

You do, but that’s all.

“I’m sure my dad is a proud dad today,” said Subban, who turned 25 on Tuesday. “Like he said, ‘You’re 25 now, and there’ll be no better gift than to bring the 25th Stanley Cup back to Montreal.’ I mean, we’re a long way from that still, but we just took a huge step forward in getting that.”

Long way? The Habs are only halfway. Win two more rounds, win that 25th Cup, and they can talk. They’ll have all the respect they could ever want.

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