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Graney: Golden Knights, Canadiens own far different histories

Before the Golden Knights and Canadiens open a best-of-seven Stanley Cup semifinal series Monday night at T-Mobile Arena, it’s instructive to consider the history of the two franchises.

They could not be more different.

Here in Las Vegas, pregame theatrics over four seasons have included a conquering hero in the Golden Knight, swords and shields and battles and a concocted Fortress.

In Montreal, they actually played hockey during Medieval times.

Or maybe it just seems that long ago.

Another difference: Montreal’s motto, taken from the poem “In Flanders Fields,” is the following: To you from failing hands we throw the torch. Be yours to hold it high.

Instead of throwing torches, the Golden Knights have had archers shoot arrows with fire at opposing team logos.

Youppi! vs. Chance

In Montreal, Youppi! is the first mascot in professional sports to switch leagues (baseball to hockey), the first from a Canadian-based club to be inducted into The Mascot Hall of Fame and the first to be thrown out of a Major League Baseball game.

The Knights have Chance the gila monster.

Huge advantage, Canadiens.

In Montreal, Bell Centre opened in 1996 and is both the largest hockey arena in the world (seating capacity 21,288) and one of the busiest venues globally based on ticket sales for non-sporting events.

T-Mobile Arena is Disneyland on a massive caffeine rush.

Huge advantage Part II, Fortress.

But once the puck drops Monday, all which happened before means nothing in regard to who ultimately advances to the Stanley Cup final. And yet the dichotomy between the franchises is striking.

Of course, that pretty much defines any side when contrasted against the archives of the world’s longest operating professional hockey team.

Montreal won its first of a record 24 Stanley Cups in 1916, when a loaf of bread cost 7 cents and some fellow named Monet was doing fascinating things with watercolors.

The Knights hadn’t played a game five years ago.

“I think before the series begins, you look at those things a little bit,” said Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon. “They’ve been in existence over 100 years longer than we have. The Montreal Canadiens are the Montreal Canadiens. It’s an Original Six franchise.

“I’m from Western Canada. You grow up and there are the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens in that country at that time. It’s a storied franchise, certainly. A fabulous city that we won’t have the opportunity to enjoy much because of the (COVID-19) protocols of the times. But it’s always special. When you play in that building, it’s always special.”

Live in moment

None of it will determine which of two future Hall of Fame goaltenders — Marc-Andre Fleury of the Knights or Carey Price of the Canadiens — gets the better of an opponent.

Or matter that one team (Knights) had a regular season goal-differential of plus-67 and the other (Montreal) minus-9. Or influence which proves more physical — a Knights’ roster that led the NHL in blocks or a Montreal side that did so in hits.

The Canadiens are hockey’s history. The Knights are trying to make more of their own.

Yet when things begin for real, all emotion is put aside. Even for those who know the narrative well.

“I was always a big Montreal fan growing up,” said Fleury, one of four players from Quebec in the Knights’ starting lineup. “Even through my career, I always kept track of them. They have such a huge history and won many times. But the game is still played on the ice. It doesn’t matter if you have 24 Cups or not — you play the game in the moment, in the present. You have to be ready for that moment and to win that game.

“Not think about the future, not think about the past.”

Fair enough. But can we at least think more about the time Youppi! was tossed from a baseball game for taking a running leap atop an opposing team’s dugout, landing hard and noisily on its roof, and then sneaking into a front row seat?

Now that’s some history.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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