In the moments after the Montreal Canadiens’ Game 6 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, Eric Staal turned to Corey Perry in the locker room and pointed out that this was his first Stanley Cup Final since he won the Cup in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes. Perry, himself, is making his second straight trip to the Final, but when talking to the media on Saturday pointed out that it is his second trip to this point since his Stanley Cup win in 2007.
He was asked if he had a message to the younger players.
“Don’t take it for granted. You come into the league at a young age and you have success early… I went to the conference championship my first year and ended up winning [the Stanley Cup] my second year,” Perry said. “You think it’s going to happen over and over and over again, you can keep the same team together and ride the wave but that’s not the case. Teams change quickly and you never know when that chance is going to happen. As a group we’ve talked about that. Live the moment and enjoy it. Take on this wild ride and have fun with it because you never know when that next chance is going to happen ever again.”
Adding veterans who have won the Stanley Cup before, as Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has, provides the experience of having done so before. But they can also bring the thing that is fuelling the veterans who haven’t won before like Shea Weber and Carey Price: Urgency.
Staal and Perry have the chance to become the third and fourth players in NHL history to go at least 14 years between Stanley Cup wins, joining only Chris Chelios and Mark Recchi — ironically two former Canadiens although only Chelios won a Cup in Montreal.
In a way, it is everything that is opposite of the team they will be facing in the Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning are the defending Stanley Cup champions and are bringing back largely the same group, with 21 players back from their championship team last year. They are the exception more than the rule. They are the first defending champion to make the Final since the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017. Before that, it was the Detroit Red Wings in 2009.
The veterans seem to be getting the point across to the young players who are making their first extended playoff run.
“It means everything to me but it means everything to the team,” forward Cole Caufield said after Game 6. “These guys have been playing for a while. This opportunity doesn’t come around very often, so playing for these older guys and the guys who have been here for a while is probably the biggest thing right now. I’m just trying to take it all in and enjoy the moment, but it’s for the older guys and the guys that have been here a while.”
They aren’t just doing it for the older players. In North America, we tend to take watching the Stanley Cup Final for granted, but for Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Artturi Lehkonen growing up in Finland, that required a bit more effort.
“I remember once, when Chicago and Boston played I set my alarm for the middle of the night and didn’t tell my parents,” admitted Kotkaniemi, who was 12 during the 2013 final. “I went in the living room and watched the game. I think at some point my parents realized I was watching there so my dad joined me and watched the game too.”
“I watched the Chicago-Philadelphia series when [Antti Niemi] won it back in the day,” Lehkonen said about the series that took place in 2010 when he was 14. “I didn’t tell my folks that I was going to wake up. It was probably 3 AM to wake up and watched the whole game. It was hard to stay awake for the overtime but I still saw the ending.”
“I think anybody that loves the game of hockey, who grew up playing the game of hockey, you play road hockey and dream about this stage your whole life,” said assistant coach Luke Richardson, who is making his first NHL Final appearance in over 30 years as a player and coach.
Several people in the Canadiens organization pointed out during the NHL’s media day on Sunday that the players all care for each other. Now that they are four wins away from the NHL’s ultimate prize, they can all tap into the emotion of what a championship would bring. For themselves, and for their teammates.