At a certain point, you just started to believe the 2020-21 Montreal Canadiens were meant to win the Stanley Cup.
Was it after Nick Suzuki’s overtime winner in Game 5 against Toronto? Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s in Game 6? Was it during the team’s four-game sweep against the Winnipeg Jets? If it wasn’t by then, surely it was when the Canadiens clinched their spot in the Stanley Cup Final on St. Jean Baptiste Day.
The run was so unbelievable, so absurd (they lost their coach due to a positive COVID-19 test in the middle of the third round!) that no one would blame you if you thought it would end with a comeback from three games down in the Final.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that there are two teams that win 12 games. Two teams that feel like everything is going their way, that feel like the team of destiny. Two teams that deserve to hoist the Stanley Cup.
Only one of them does.
There is definitely a disappointment in how it ended. When you get this far only to lose, it can hurt. In a few days, or maybe weeks, that disappointment will fade. The memories of the team’s longest playoff run in 28 years will remain.
Twenty-eight years. The Patrick Roy trade. The Saku Koivu era. The Andrei Markov era. Jaroslav Halak. P.K. Subban. Max Pacioretty. A whole lot of history and this year trumped all of it. It led to this moment that had some fans thinking Josh Anderson was John LeClair. Carey Price was Patrick Roy. Cole Caufield was Steve Shutt. But it did something else. It gave a lot of fans their first taste of this kind of run.
Twenty-eight years is a long time. The Canadiens do a great job at remembering and showcasing their history. A lot of their fans became not only accustomed to winning Stanley Cups, but expectant of it. But for so many, that history was not a memory but a past glory out of reach. For a lot of fans, the footage of the 1993 Final may as well have been in black and white. Guy Carbonneau and Denis Savard with the Cup may as well have been Jean Beliveau and Boom Boom Geoffrion.
It didn’t end the way people in Montreal wanted, and no one should be talking about remembering this run among the great ones in Canadiens history. The New York Yankees don’t remember World Series losses, and the Canadiens don’t remember lost Stanley Cups.
But this run showed what could be. It’s very hard to make the Final, and more trips to this point can’t be expected. It will be the goal. Shea Weber, Carey Price, Brendan Gallagher, and Jeff Petry have waited for years to get to this point. Eric Staal waited 15 years to get another chance.
They can’t take anything for granted, of course, but it may be time for a role reversal. For much of this run, the leaders were the veterans who had been there before, and some who hadn’t. It would only be human nature to wonder if this was as close as they will get. However, the young players, the players who will end up as the core of this team, will see this differently. They will see it as the start of something, not the end.