To be a Habs fan is to suffer.
And that’s exactly what we were doing Thursday at the Redondo Beach Café in this quiet seaside community just south of the much more hopping Santa Monica and Venice beach scenes. I was watching Game 5 of the Canadiens Rangers series with Chris and Kosta Tsangaris, two brothers who grow up in a Greek-immigrant family in Park Ex and run this hockey-obsessed/Montreal-obsessed restaurant in southern California.
I had spent the hour before the game chatting with Chris, a super friendly guy who told me his story, of how one year of playing major-junior football in Quebec led to a football scholarship to Long Beach State University not that far from Redondo Beach. He then spent six years as a linebacker in the CFL, including a stint with the Alouettes. He’s lived in the L.A. area ever since his time studying here. Now he’s a professor of kinesiology at Long Beach U and spends his time outside the classroom overseeing the Redondo Beach Café with his brother Kosta. The resto, by the way, makes a mean Montreal-style smoked-meat sandwich and they say they were the first place in Los Angeles to sell poutine.
“I’m living the dream,” says Chris, as we walk down to the gorgeous beach five minutes from his restaurant.
Who am I to argue with him?
The Tsangaris brothers live and breathe hockey and that’s reflected in their restaurant, which has Habs and Kings memorabilia everywhere. After the first Kings Cup win in 2012, the team brought the Cup to the Tsangaris’s restaurant and there was a line of fans right down to the beach waiting to get a pic with Lord Stanley’s chalice.
So we had a great time Thursday — until the Canadiens soiled the bed in the third and especially the overtime, dropping the crucial game 3-2 to the Blueshirts.
After the game the brothers were despondent.
“This agony of defeat thing is too much,” said Kosta, after Mika Zibanejad potted the winning goal for the Rangers at 14:22 of the first overtime period.
“I hate when we lose,” added Kosta.
You already know the entire city of Montreal was in a funk after that bitter defeat. Now you know the heartache was being felt 3,000 miles away in sunny Southern California. Though fellow Montreal ex-pat Steven Spitzer aka ‘Expo’ did put an L.A. spin on the defeat.
“You get all upset that your team lost and then you walk outside and it’s 65 degrees (Farenheit),” said Spitzer, a divorce lawyer whose offices are just around the corner.
Just how upset were folks Thursday night going into Friday? Pop Montreal creative director Dan Seligman caught the bitter zeitgeist perfectly with his Facebook post Friday morning: “At least we can all agree on who won the trade now.”
Of course Seligman was referring to the P.K. Subban/Shea Weber trade from last summer and just as obviously Seligman was being ultra-provocative here. Though he has a point — Subban and his Predators swept the almost-dynasty-like Chicago Blackhawks while Montreal is on the ropes against the Rangers. Yeah Subban was not lighting it up against the Hawks but he was playing a solid defensive game and showing that he can be a team guy, something Montreal management insisted he was incapable of doing.
Bottom-line is that you make a blockbuster trade to help your team in the playoffs and right here, right now, the Predators are doing better than the Habs. So to quote Charlie Sheen, Peter Laviolette’s team is #winning.
Fact is that trade doesn’t look good right at this exact second. The Man Mountain has often been a force to reckon with in these playoffs but, as I’ve said for close to a year now, Habs GM Marc Bergevin failed to deal with Montreal’s real problem because he was so obsessed with shipping P.K. out of town.
The Canadiens’ biggest problem has been the same one for….well for 24 years. They need quality Top Six scorers. What Bergevin should’ve been doing is scouring the league for a big strong forward who could put the puck in the net. He also should’ve been trying to develop that same player through the Habs’ farm system. He’s failed miserably on both counts.
The other thing people were saying after the game Thursday is that they traded the wrong guy last summer. They should’ve traded 67 not 76. And they’re right. Yes Max Pacioretty scores 30-something goals every season but he is beyond terrible in the playoffs. Always has been. Hey he might redeem himself Saturday night in the Big Apple and I’d love to see that happen.
But we can only talk about what’s already happened and our fearful captain has never had anything approaching a decent playoff run. And he’s been horrible in this series. Let’s not beat around the bush here — for your leading scorer and captain to have one assist in five games of a playoff series is simply not acceptable. Great players — hello Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Bobby Orr, Mario Lemieux, to name a few — score the big goals when they’re needed. In other words, if you’re not-so-mad Max, you need to lift that puck over Henrik Lundqvist’s pad on that breakway in the third period.
If our Habs lose this series, the loss is on Bergevin. He said as much last year. He claims he takes responsibility and he should. He hasn’t addressed the team’s inability to score and instead he’s continued with the same plan as ever, a plan that is no plan at all — just hope Carey Price pulls off a miracle every night. Well The King has been the better goalie so far. That’s a fact. His team is up 3-2. Both goalies have been superb but the Rangers are one game away from sending the Canadiens to the golf course.
The lack of scoring killed the Canadiens in their 2015 playoff run and it looks like it’s going to seal their fate again. Oh yeah but the team used to have a guy who turned up for the big games and notably provided some much-needed heroics in a certain 2014 Bruins Habs series. A guy named P.K. Subban.
Price has never pulled off that playoff magic. Weber has never done that. And Patch doesn’t even know what we’re talking about.
Meanwhile back at the Redondo Beach Café, Chris Tsangaris was talking about how one of his all-time favourite Habs players was Chris Nilan and we were thinking that’s exactly the kind of guy these Canadiens need so badly. A guy who’s all heart. A gladiator who will do anything to get that win.
Like so many of us, the Tsangaris brothers grew up enthralled by some of the greatest Canadiens teams ever. Their dad had a barbershop just across from the old Forum in the 1970s and Chris remembers watching from the barbershop window every June as those parades wound down Ste-Catherine St.
Now they dream of putting a photo of that elusive 25th Habs Cup parade on the wall of their restaurant in Redondo Beach. But right here, right now, neither is feeling the dream. But it’s another beautiful day on the beach.