Losing is never easy, especially after making it this far, but Montreal Canadiens (Habs) fans say they are grateful for a magical playoff run that re-energized the city.
The season came to an end last night following a hard-fought 1-0 loss in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final against the now back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Pundits gave the Habs little chance of getting out of the first round of the NHL playoffs, much less getting within three wins of the ultimate prize.
The team’s playoff push fostered the belief that a 25th Stanley Cup banner isn’t as far off as it once seemed. It also coincides with the lifting of public health measures as COVID-19 cases waned, and helped reinvigorate the city.
“First time in the finals in 28 years. It’s a feat in itself, super proud of the team as a whole,” said Toni Cach, who watched Game 5 outside the Bell Centre, where thousands gathered for each game.
“It means a lot to see them make it this far and I know we’re going to come back stronger and we’ll be there all the way. Unconditional love.”
There are lots of reasons for that optimism.
During their run, the Canadiens displayed a never-quit attitude when it roared back from a 3-1 series deficit in the first round to knock off its oldest rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Carey Price, the Canadiens netminder, proved repeatedly that when he’s on his game, he is a nightmare for opposing shooters.
Youngsters Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield played with a poise beyond their years and showed that the team’s future is now.
For Habs fans, it all made for amazing theatre and galvanized a city that had spent much of the last 15 months under strict lockdown measures.
“I watched the team do amazing, I watched the whole city back up the team,” said Joseph Shamoun, who lives near the Bell Centre and never missed an outdoor viewing of a Habs game just outside the arena, with thousands of other fans bunched together.
“The vibe outside is amazing, the people are amazing. It shows you how united we are behind this team.”
The Canadiens were trying to do the near-impossible, coming back from being done 3-0 in a Stanley Cup final series and winning four straight games. It’s only been done once in NHL history and not since 1942.
But following Montreal’s thrilling overtime victory on Monday, fans believed. Why not these Habs after everything they’ve shown?
In the end, the hole was too deep.
“It’s sad but they did good, they did good,” said Maiya Lefebvre. “We’re still proud.”
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