Playing with house money always makes the stakes seem less severe.
For those unfamiliar with gambling lingo, the idea is once you’ve stepped inside a casino and profited from some quality cards or a kind slot machine, you tend to worry less about losing on future hands or pulls because you’re only risking cash that wasn’t in your pocket when you arrived.
Which brings us to the Montreal Canadiens.
With one week remaining in the regular season, the Canadiens are all but assured of finishing first or second in the Eastern Conference. Usually, nabbing a high seed like that comes with lofty expectations of winning two or three playoff rounds. Anything less, for a squad that excelled during the 82-game post-season tune up, is a disappointment.
But do the stakes apply when you’ve arrived early? With apologies to relatives of team members and dyed-in-the-wool fans, nobody expected Montreal to run through the regular season the way it has. Most figured – at best – the Canadiens’ final week would be spent fighting it out for one of the last playoff spots in the East, not hoping players heal in time for a first round series that will begin in their building.
Because of this, it’s easy to say anything the Canadiens achieve in the playoffs is gravy. They’re young, developing faster than expected and have already provided more excitement than fans ever anticipated.
But by the same token, the East has never been more wide open. There isn’t one team that doesn’t carry question marks wherever it travels and the opportunity for Montreal to be the best of an average bunch is there.
The Canadiens, with all their youth, may be even better next year. But what if Ottawa goes out and lands a top-notch goalie this summer? What if New Jersey, perish the thought, brings a 40-goal scorer into the fold? The holes currently there to skate through could close up in a hurry.
The Habs may have arrived a bit ahead of schedule, but that doesn’t change the fact there’s never been a better time to cash in their chips than now.
This column also appears in the Montreal Metro newspaper.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears every second Friday.
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