Just as the Montreal Canadiens weren’t supposed to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, the orange traffic cone wasn’t meant to become an undisputed symbol of the city of Montreal.
But when Montrealers woke up on Friday after an unforgettable National Holiday in which the Canadiens hit their ticket to the flagship hockey event, we found ourselves with images of fans raising the cone above their heads to celebrate.
And why not? The traffic cone is an eerily perfect metaphor for the team. Let me explain.
Symbol of a work in progress
It has been 28 years since the Montreal Canadiens reached the Stanley Cup final.
It’s been a long and arduous build to get the team to this point and for the fans it was often as if it was a project that was never going to be completed.
A bit like we feel every time Montrealers pass a construction site where no work seems to be done but where there are cones scattered all over the place.
The construction of general manager Marc Bergevin did not always seem to go together.
General manager Marc Bergevin and forward Artturi Lehkonen both faced criticism from fans, who were silenced by the team’s success against Toronto, Winnipeg and Las Vegas. (Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press)
There were times when his plan looked less like a plan and more like detours around a construction site where workers were idle.
The work is not yet done. But the pieces Bergevin put together come together and it becomes clear that there was a plan from the start.
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Irrational anger and misdirected passion
Who among us has not taken a turn in Montreal to collapse emotionally at the sight of traffic cones?
The Habs bring out the best and the worst in fans and now, looking back, there have been several times where some of the ideas that have taken root in the fan base seem pretty silly in hindsight.
Here are some examples.
Carey Price needs to be traded because he can’t steal a playoff game and having a $ 10.5 million goalie isn’t a formula for winning a championship. Artturi Lehkonen has to go because, although he has a lot of good areas in his game, he cannot score. The Habs’ defensive core of Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Ben Chiarot and Joel Edmundson is too big and too slow for today’s NHL. Cole Caufield’s development is ruined because the Habs push him to the NHL level. Goalie Carey Price blocks a shot by Vegas Golden Knights right winger Reilly Smith in Game 5 in Las Vegas. (John Locher / AP Photo)
Like most things shouted at the sight of traffic cones, when we step back, it’s clear they probably shouldn’t have been said.
The cone slows down the aliens
If you are not from Montreal, driving in the city can be a daunting task.
There are cones everywhere and even with a map and GPS to help you get lost and hopelessly lost.
The 2021 Habs opponents in the playoffs can identify with each other.
Their game plans looked great on paper. But when they got on the ice, the teams faced off against the Habs forwards, who have become masters at picking up speed in the neutral zone and forcing adjustments they are uncomfortable with.
Then, the opponents must navigate the detours of the defenders of the aforementioned blues of the Habs and their progress is even slower.
And if the opponents are able to get through it all, Carey Price is waiting in his end zone with a “closed street” sign for good measure.
Just as the Montrealers raged over the road closures, the Canadiens’ opponents were thwarted by the team’s defense, including its goaltender. (SRC)
The Habs have killed 30 consecutive power plays in 13 games. Their ability to thwart their opponents’ attack in these playoffs has been key to their success.
The cone is a symbol of the fusion of the old and the new
The Montreal Canadiens have a rich history that the club has always done a great job of integrating into the modern team.
Like a site that integrates a heritage building into its modern facade, mixing the old with the new is also how the team found a winning formula.
The Canadians have a tantalizing array of youngsters such as Cole Caufield, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki in their lineup who sparked this race. They are anchored by the firm hands of veterans with championship pedigrees, such as Corey Perry, Eric Staal and Shea Weber.
This combination has allowed the kids to coast and fly on the ice while the veterans keep them on course with the experience of having been here before.
So raise the cone high, Montrealers. The final will be incredibly difficult, but maybe after all the waiting, it’s the team and it’s the year.
Fans are celebrating in the streets after the Habs clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Final. (Radio-Canada)