The Montreal Canadiens were four wins away from a berth to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. The team returned to Montreal after a series victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. The fans greeted the Canadiens, who survived two Game 7s against two top-ranked teams in Washington and Pittsburgh, with a hero’s welcome.
Dominic Moore, Canadiens forward: I remember coming back on the plane and landing in Montreal. There were fans lined up outside the tarmac of the airport, literally banging on the windows of our cars as we were leaving the airport. It felt like we were the Beatles. I remember being in the car with [Michael] Cammalleri downtown and it was a pretty surreal feeling. You could feel, in a very real way, what our accomplishment as a team had meant to these fans and people in Montreal.
Mathieu Darche, Canadiens forward: We came back from Pittsburgh after Game 7 ... there was a crowd outside waiting for us to land. You realize how hockey-crazy the city gets.
Maxim Lapierre, Canadiens forward: That’s hockey in Montreal, right? When you have success and things are going well ... it’s just unbelievable. You just come home at night and go in your bed and sleep with a big smile on your face.
Michael Cammalleri, Canadiens forward: It’s like A-list celebrity living at that point. You’re very visible. Everybody knows who you are. You’re mindful of what you’re doing outside your home. You want to give people the time and greet them ... but you’re managing your own energy.
The Canadiens’ next opponent was the Philadelphia Flyers, a seventh seed on a Cinderella run of their own. They got into the playoffs on the very last day of the season via a shootout victory over the New York Rangers. Following a first-round victory over the New Jersey Devils, the Flyers came back from a 3-0 deficit to defeat the Boston Bruins in the second round. But some fans were confident the Canadiens could defeat the Flyers.
Jay Farrar, former manager of McLean’s Pub: I thought so. We all thought so. I had no doubt about it. They went through Washington and Pittsburgh?
The Flyers weren’t THAT good that year, either.
Daniel Briere, Philadelphia Flyers forward: We made the playoffs on the last regular-season game in a shootout against the Rangers where the team winning the shootout was going to the playoffs. The team losing was going home. It was pretty wild. So, I don’t think too many people believed in us going into the playoffs. Same thing in Philadelphia. I think our fans wanted to believe but it was hard to trust the team that barely made it there.
Mike Richards, Philadelphia Flyers forward: We knew we were going to be a tough out. Once we got by Boston, I think Boston kind of always gave us a little bit of fits. When we played Montreal, I just remember us having some success against them. We were pretty confident going into that series.
Briere: I was surprised that we were getting home-ice advantage more than anything. It’s pretty wild that the seventh and eighth [seeds] were in the conference finals.
Montreal had did extremely well against Pittsburgh and Washington in the first two rounds that year, and if you look at the makeup of those teams there they were built very similar around a great superstar.
Moore: I think we were surprised. I think they weren’t at all picked to necessarily be where they were either. And I think, ironically, that kind of took away our underdog mentality in some ways. [It] changed our perspective going to the Conference Finals.
Cammalleri: I thought Boston would have been a great matchup for us. I remember really wanting Boston to win, because I just felt it would’ve been a great matchup for us. And I thought, geez, if we win this Pittsburgh series, we get Boston, we’re gonna go play in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Glen Metropolit, Canadiens forward: I feel like if we were to play Boston in that third round, I think it would’ve given us a whole new shot in the arm. The rivalry’s back on. But I think we’re just emotionally depleted, those Game 7s, and now we head to Philly.
The Canadiens couldn’t have had a worse start to the series as they were held goalless through the first two games. The Flyers even chased Jaroslav Halak from the net in Game 1.
Briere: That was our game plan. We knew we needed to get to him, first and foremost. He was one of the keys to beating Montreal in that round. We could not let him get comfortable. We had a lot of traffic at the net. Halak wasn’t a big goalie, more about reflexes and agility. So we need to get in his face and make him uncomfortable in the crease.
Lapierre: We were just gassed. I don’t think it’s that series, specifically, that got us tired and slower. It’s more what we did before. Washington was a tough team to play physically, they [had] big guys. And then Pittsburgh ... it was basically one month of war that we did. Playing big bodies and then you come against another big team.
Darche: We just ran out of gas against Philly. We lost [Andrei] Markov against Pittsburgh. It’s tough to lose a top defenceman like that. We ran out of magic against Philly.
Jacques Martin, Canadiens head coach: I think what I did is ... trying to get our top nine guys on our top three lines. I think it was successful for two series. I think, in the Philly series, Chris Pronger was a big factor for the Flyers. They had a pretty good team too. It just seemed like we just weren’t able to regain our mojo that we had in the other two series.
They had a more physical defence and we weren’t as good. Our special teams, as a whole ... we weren’t as good in that series. I think part of it might have been our depth. We played 14 games. It was war against the Capitals and then Pittsburgh. Then, we didn’t have a big team. We had a team that was quick, that was fast. But when you look at a lot of our key players, Cammalleri, Gionta, Gomez, Plekanec, they weren’t big players. I think that probably played against us as well.
Moore: Whereas we had played with nothing to lose in the first two rounds, we played like we had something to lose in the Conference Finals. Philly kind of dominated us [at] a lot of points in that series.
The Canadiens allowed nine goals in the series before scoring their first in Game 3, back in Montreal. They walloped the Flyers 5-1 at the Bell Centre to give themselves hope.
Briere: And then we got the wake-up call. We probably started feeling a little confident after winning those two games and not giving up a goal in Philadelphia. And then we went to Montreal, and it was, okay, wake-up call. We better get back in line because this could have derailed for us. Quickly. And then we were able to get that back on track.
Cammalleri: I remember feeling good about that game and [thinking] ‘Okay, here we go again. We’re back in a series.’
The wake-up call put the Canadiens back in the series, but only for so long. A Game 4 loss at home put the Canadiens down 3-1 and on the brink of elimination.
Briere: I think the key was winning Game 4 in Montreal.
Eric Engels, Habs beat writer for Sportsnet: The Canadiens were just never in that series. It didn’t work out well for them. It wasn’t a good matchup.
The first two series, [the Canadiens] were playing two teams that disrespected them. They were two teams that felt Montreal couldn’t play with them. Philly had a grind-it-out type mentality. They had come into the playoffs as an underdog to begin with and they had pulled off an upset from down 3-0 to beat Boston in Game 7. You talk about Montreal being galvanized, those guys were feeling real good about themselves.
The series, and the Canadiens’ Stanley Cup hopes, would end in Philadelphia in Game 5. The Canadiens took a 1-0 lead as they desperately hoped to come back from a 3-1 series deficit for the second time that spring. Then, the Canadiens fell victim to “The Shift.”
Richards: I get [the play] sent to me probably four or five times a year. It’s hard to forget. I still get chills every time I see it, so it’s pretty cool.
[We’re] shorthanded. I remember going up the ice, making a hit, feeding [Braydon] Coburn for a one-timer on a three-on-two while we were short-handed.
Briere: I was on the bench and we were killing a penalty. I remember [Claude] Giroux throwing the puck away to the other side of the ice.
Richards: I think it was Giroux who just flicked it to the middle. It was kind of like, ’What the hell, let’s go for this.’
Briere: And Richards, instead of coming [to the bench] for a change, decided to put pressure and Halak came out. It was a race between Richards and the [Habs] defenceman*, which I can’t remember who it was.*
* the defenceman was Roman Hamrlik.
Richards: Made a dive and then I don’t know how I had the composure to [keep] the puck ... and then backhand it in the net.
It was one of those things where your hockey sense takes over and you just put it in the open net.
Lapierre: That’s the only play I remember [from that series]. I remember I wanted to make sure Jaro was not hurt.
The Flyers would later get goals from Arron Asham and Jeff Carter in the second period. Montreal would get one last goal from Gomez, but a Carter empty-net goal late in the game put an end to the Canadiens’ season. The Habs and Flyers met in the handshake line at the Wachovia Center at centre ice.
Briere: To clinch at home, to share it with the crowd, with the city. I remember the next couple days waiting for the Stanley Cup Finals to start. Everywhere we went, we were addressed with ‘Let’s go get ‘em’, ‘Let’s win the Cup’.
Richards: It was awesome. I think it was more two days after, give or take, when we were doing the Stanley Cup Finals press conference. That’s when it kind of hit me, I remember just being like ‘we have a chance to actually win the Stanley Cup right now’. That was pretty cool.
Farrar: It was heartbreaking. It was really heartbreaking. I saw people crying in the pub. Just a combination of emotion and drink, I would assume.
God forbid if you were a Flyers fan that walked in. Because there were a few. We had to break up some fights, that’s for sure.
Lapierre: It’s tough. You’re starting to dream of going to play in the Stanley Cup Finals. We knew we accomplished a lot, way more than we were supposed to. We were obviously disappointed but we knew we did something great. Now that I’m looking back, did we have the team to maybe create a surprise against [Chicago]? I don’t know. They were a great team, they were unbelievable. They beat Philly, that was another good team. I believe in the NHL everybody has a chance. It depends on how you feel when the next round starts.
Moore: For me, it was a combination of, number one, incredible playoff experience. Incredible time to be a part of the Montreal Canadiens. Such a special spring. Just cherishing that I was a part of that. It was my first playoff experience.
The second element for me was just a huge, huge craving for more playoff hockey. Getting so close to the Finals going into the next season. Obviously, I was hoping to stay in Montreal. That didn’t work out.
Brian Gionta, Canadiens forward: We definitely ran out of steam. Whether that was mental or physical, we just could not get anything going in that Philly series.
Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens forward: It took us a lot to be able to match up against the Flyers that year. Maybe we missed a bit of depth in the end to make it through the Flyers. It was hard, but those first two series probably took too much [out of us].
Metropolit: I don’t know if their top guys just [had] more energy or whatever. It was just a feeling. Hard to explain. I think they were the better team and, obviously, they won the series but they just had more than we had.
Cammalleri: You’re tasting something that you wanted to taste a little bit more of and see if you actually could get to the final prize. You could call it disappointment, but then certainly pride. You’re the underdog story.
Darche: We were in the last four teams. So, you’re so close, yet you’re so far from winning the Stanley Cup.
Marc-Andre Bergeron, Canadiens defenceman: You’re so drained. That series, it went really fast. Maybe because the other two before we played seven games, but that one ... it felt we could never really get ahold of it.
It felt like we couldn’t do anything. It felt like they played us really well. It felt like we couldn’t really get anything going. Once it’s over, there’s all sorts of feelings. The next day, all of a sudden, you’re on holiday, so that’s nice. But at the same time, you’ve done so much and now you’re so much closer to what you’re hoping and dreaming of [but] that’s all over. You’ve got to redo it all over again if you, at some point, want to win. It’s discouraging. It’s a lot of feelings. Considering that we were the eighth seed and we beat Washington and Pittsburgh, it was nice. But it’s just not enough.
Jay Baruchel, actor/Habs fan: I really thought we would go to the Final. I really, really thought we would make it through. I thought if we can, one after the other, dismiss Ovechkin and the Capitals, and then Crosby and the Penguins, both teams that were heavily favoured to beat us. I was using a very simple, dumb metric. If we can beat them and Philly doesn’t have Crosby or Ovechkin, clearly we’d go on to beat Philadelphia. And then what happened was what often happens in the playoffs.
I just watched as everything that worked for us stopped working. We didn’t have an answer to their physicality because that was our thing. We’re small, ‘speed kills,’ we’re faster than everybody and it didn’t really matter against Philadelphia if memory serves. And then it was the inevitable, ‘oh right, I’m a Habs fan’. We don’t go to Finals anymore. I don’t get to see this. You fool. You let yourself get caught up and you let yourself believe this team would do it. It’s just like, ugh God, deeply, deeply frustrating.
The Canadiens entered the 2010 off-season with an important choice to make: Halak or Carey Price? Price was supposed to be the future, but Halak captured the hearts of Montreal that spring through his performances in goal. We even saw his name on stop signs and t-shirts. Debates raged on concerning the two goaltenders, but the Habs ultimately decided to trade Halak to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for two prospects — Lars Eller and Ian Schultz — and keep Price.
Lapierre: I think [the run], obviously, changed his career. But I think he was always a great goaltender. Sometimes it’s just a matter of timing and that was it for him. He got the chance, he got the call and he did well at the right time.
Moore: I think the Canadiens made the right decision. As successful a career as both goalies have had. Jaro went on and performed extremely well ... but obviously Carey’s record speaks for itself.
Martin: When it comes to trades, that’s not my department.
I support it. I’ve a lot of respect for Jaroslav Halak. I know that Carey Price is an outstanding goaltender. He’s one of the better goaltenders in the National Hockey League ... the organization made a decision, but it’s not my place, as you can understand.
Halak spent the next four seasons with the Blues before briefly joining the Capitals in 2014. He’d then join the New York Islanders later that year before becoming a member of the Bruins in 2018. Halak’s stint in the nation’s capital lasted all of 12 regular-season games and no playoff games, but it left some fans torn over how to feel about a goaltender who nearly single-handedly dashed their Cup ambitions four summers prior.
Karl Alzner, Washington Capitals defenceman (2008-17): I think it’s kind of a love/hate type thing. I think they respect and appreciate what he was able to do. But [they] hated that because that was another opportunity where you could go back and look at the decade of how many championships that could have been.
John Carlson, Washington Capitals defenceman: We played him plenty of times after . Maybe the next year we had a bone to pick. But time goes on and you move on to different things.
Lapierre: Even now when I watch him play in Boston, or when he was in St. Louis, I still don’t understand why he’s not a number-one goalie. It’s just weird to me. You look at Jaro in Boston right now, it’s kind of the same story. Every time he comes in net, [he’s] unreal. Next thing you know, he’s not in the net the next game. I wonder why because I think he’s the type of guy that could carry a team.
Schultz never played a game as a Hab, while Eller spent six seasons with the bleu-blanc-rouge. The Danish forward scored 71 goals and 154 points in 435 games a Canadien before being traded to Washington in 2016. Eller would eventually win a Cup as a member of the Capitals in 2018.
Ben Raby, Capitals Radio Host & WTOP Sports Anchor: I’ve spoken to him about it. At the time, it didn’t faze him. He almost didn’t know better. He was naive when he was traded to Montreal for Halak. He’s acknowledged he didn’t fully, maybe, grasp how big a deal Halak had been in [Montreal]. He was confident, based on what he told me. Eller said he was just confident that he was going to do well and people would move on from it.
Lars Eller, Canadiens forward (2010-16): My expectation and goal from the beginning was to establish myself as an NHL player. Once I did that ... the goal was, of course, to be a top-six player. I established myself, [but] didn’t really reach the other part, at least consistently, at times. We didn’t really have a stable environment here and I didn’t always get the best out of myself.
I think I had a good time here. I‘m happy with all the experiences it gave me. I have some of the best memories here. Playoff games here are unbelievable. I miss those. I love, every time, coming to play here. But it was a really good thing for me to come to Washington at the time I did and I think I improved as a player after I got there.
It‘s weird how that works out, right? It’s funny to think back on it and see how everything played out. And you have no control over any of the stuff that happens. You’re just a small piece in a bigger puzzle ... I’m really happy with how things turned out and where I am now.
The Canadiens would later return to the Conference Finals in 2014 with Price in net, but the goalie’s injury would lead to an exit from the playoffs. The Montreal Canadiens haven’t reached that far in the post-season since. But, 2010 still holds a special place in some Habs fans memories.
Watching Dominic Moore score the 2-0 goal to clinch the Habs victory. Notable second is Spacek scoring in game 6 to give the Habs the lead in his first game back into the lineup— Dong Ngo (@DongNgo98) May 18, 2020
My personal fave moment was when P.J. Stock...working for CHOM at the time...when making his predictions before round 1 said...”Caps in 3”....then having to eat crow.....#epic— Gary Bridgman (@Zeprulz) May 18, 2020
Cammalleri 3-0 goal I believe, in game 7 in Pitts, snipe from his knees, air fist bumps!!!!— Nader (@Nader_03) May 18, 2020
Game 7 in Pittsburgh:— Tony V. (@HABSFAN_91) May 18, 2020
“Oh baby! What is going on in Pennsylvania!!”
Travis Moen game 7 Pittsburgh to put habs up 4-0. At that point we all knew it was on to the conference finals.— Alex Cole™️ (@AlexanderWCole) May 18, 2020
Farrar: It could be another half-century until the Canadiens ever win a Stanley Cup again. It’s not like the old days where they’d win one within seven years of another one. Or five in a row. Those days are over. There’s too many teams, there’s too much parity. It’s going to change. I could never see one for the rest of my life. I’m in my early 40s. It’s very, very likely, or possible, that I’ll never see one again and people have to get used to that. I think that’s why they really celebrate a second-, third-round [appearance]. It becomes a big thing. Now look: we’re making memories with a third-round run.
Annakin Slayd, rapper/actor: That period between 2010 and 2014 — 2015 too, actually — was pretty good. That five, six, seven years where they were making the playoffs every year. They had a chance every year. There’s nothing like that. Not only on the streets, but if you happened to be in the arena.
Baruchel: It was exciting and romantic. I still get goosebumps picturing Cammalleri dropping onto one knee for his one-timer. That lethal one-timer. Oof. In fact, not that anybody really cares but, if anyone [here] likes the Goon movies, we modelled [Xavier] Laflamme’s play after what Cammalleri did in the run.
Metropolit: When I talk to people when they ask me about my career, I say I basically played for the New York Yankees of hockey: the Montreal Canadiens.
Moore: I haven’t thought about  too much lately, but it’s fun to kind of talk about it again and think about it again ... have to go back and watch some more of the games.
Darche: The excitement of the city. That’s what I remember the most.
Gionta: I remember the magnitude of the run, but moreso the buzz it created and the underdog side of it. We were underdogs in both those series [against Washington and Pittsburgh]. We got in the last day of the regular season, so it wasn’t a team that was expected to go to the conference finals.
Bergeron: They’re great memories. Before the game, people outside all around the Bell Centre. The whole province was just watching us.
Martin: All the flags of the Canadiens on the cars. Everybody has signs in the windows of their businesses. When you go to your cleaners for instance, or you’re going for groceries, people are just talking hockey and [they’re] excited about the success of the team.
Lapierre: It’s funny, because everybody seems like they think it happened yesterday. It was a long time ago and it was a good ride. You realize how important hockey is in Montreal. You just picture Montreal winning a Cup. I just hope I see it one day, even if I’m going to be a fan. I can promise you I’ll be there watching. That’s 100%. It’s one thing to live it as a player, but living it as a city would be unbelievable.
Cammalleri: It was a fun time in our lives.
Plekanec: What else can you say about the fans in Montreal? We end up winning those two big series and the city was, obviously, alive. Every playoffs. Even in the first round, first game, everybody’s so excited and everybody’s ready for the playoffs. Winning the series against the Capitals and then the Penguins, the city was upside down. It was something great to be a part of.