Habs not satisfied after surprise run to Stanley Cup final

MONTREAL — Shea Weber and his colleagues collected around the Clarence Campbell Bowl for a celebratory photo.

They likewise didn’t attempt touch the prize.

The Montreal Canadiens, after all, have a much larger objective in their sights.

A lineup of gamers not offered a possibility by nearly everybody outside their 4 walls at the start of the playoffs following a tough season with a lot of weaves to count had actually simply punched an unlikely ticket to the Stanley Cup last.

And all they’re concentrated on is pressing forward — not recalling.

“We’ve got to win four more games,” Weber, Montreal’s stern-faced captain, stated in the wake of Thursday’s thrilling 3-2 overtime success versus the Vegas Golden Knights that pressed Montreal into its very first title series because 1993. “Proud of everybody in that locker-room right now and what we’ve accomplished.

“However absolutely still work to be done.”

Even the youngest player on the team, a flashy 20-year-old sniper coming off a four-goal performance in the third round, quickly turned his attention to the Canadiens’ next mountain to climb.

“There’s a larger one out there that we’re chasing after,” Cole Caufield said when asked about not grasping the semifinal trophy.

So how did they get here? How did so many get this team so wrong?

In short, the Canadiens are in this position through hard work, belief, commitment to structure and each other, strong — sometimes exceptional goaltending — and like all teams that get this far, a bit of luck.

“Everyone in the city is certainly overjoyed,” said netminder Carey Price, who’s 12-5 with a .934 save percentage in the playoffs. “It’s an enjoyable time to be in Montreal.”

That wasn’t the case a little over four weeks ago.

Following a winter and early spring of strict COVID-19 rules across Quebec, the Canadiens were on the ropes down 3-1 in the first round against the powerhouse Toronto Maple Leafs — 18 points clear of Montreal in the North Division standings — before rallying for a seven-game victory.

They then made quick work of the Winnipeg Jets, another group expected to roll past the Canadiens, with a sweep before the just-completed conquering of Vegas, which finished second in the league.

“An amazing time,” Weber said. “We enjoy to still be playing.”

But there also wasn’t a ton of a excitement around the team four months ago either in a 56-game campaign that started with high expectations after a surprising run in last summer’s playoff bubble and some high-profile acquisitions.

Montreal fired head coach Claude Julien in February, suffered a COVID-19 outbreak in March, dealt with key injuries down the stretch to limp into the post-season as the 16th and final seed, and then lost interim bench boss Dominique Ducharme against the Golden Knights after he tested positive for the coronavirus.

“Is that all?” Canadiens assistant coach Luke Richardson, in the big chair with Ducharme sidelined, said with a grin when all the trials and tribulations were listed off following the Game 6 victory over Vegas. “Whatever appears to be going so quick.”

Montreal will meet the winner of the other semifinal series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders, who were set to play Game 7 on Friday.

“Implies whatever to me,” Caufield, the five-foot-seven, No. 15 pick at the 2019 NHL draft, said of making the Cup final as a rookie. “However it suggests whatever to the group. These men have actually been betting a while. This chance does not happen really typically. Betting these older men and men that have actually been here for a while is most likely the most significant thing.

“I’m just trying to take it all in and enjoy the moment.”

The Golden Knights, on the other hand, are delegated get the pieces.

The biggest wagering preferred in a third-round NHL series in 3 years, Vegas has actually delighted in incredible success because entering into the league, consisting of a Cup berth in its growth 2017 year and back-to-back final-four looks, however is when again looking for responses.

“I got skunked this series. That can’t happen,” stated Vegas winger Mark Stone, who like much of the group’s offending drivers was stymied at every turn by Montreal. “I’m the captain of this team, the leader of this team.

“I take a great deal of obligation for what simply took place.”

Back on the other side, Ducharme, who continues to self-isolate away from the Canadiens, got to enjoy a bit of the moment, albeit virtually, with his players and coaches Thursday.

“I fist-bumped him on the video screen,” Richardson said. “I do not understand if we really got it linked, however it was quite close.

“He was definitely very excited and happy.”

Thursday’s winning objective, scored by Artturi Lehkonen, was a best example of how the Canadiens have actually continued to shock under Ducharme and, more just recently, Richardson’s watch.

The shutdown line of Lehkonen, Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher — so strong in reducing the effects of the opposition’s leading dangers throughout the playoffs, however not able to discover the back of the web in the Vegas series prior to Video game 6’s definitive minute — began with a protective zone faceoff.

Cost battled a point soared high prior to Gallagher raced the other method on a fast counter and fed Danault in the neutral zone. The centre then moved a no-look pass to Lehtonen, who buried the clincher to trigger wild events for the 3,500 fans at the Bell Centre, and the thousands more in the streets outside the arena.

“They don’t get enough credit,” Weber stated of the monitoring trio. “For them to get a goal for us to move on, it’s awesome.

“I feel excellent for them.”

Just like the emotions of a fan base looking for its 25th Cup — and Canada’s first since Montreal’s last triumph in 1993 — in a spring, and now summer, to remember.

“This is incredible,” Caufield said. “I like the fans. I want it was a jam-packed structure, however individuals we do allow, they have actually boggled the mind.

“Hopefully we can keep making them happy.”

Obviously, the Canadiens are ending up being a huge story throughout the nation. Video game 6 was the most-watched video game of the series with a typical minute audience of 3.7 million audiences on Sportsnet and CBC, a Sportsnet spokesperson stated in an e-mail.

This report by The Canadian Press was very first released June 25, 2021.


Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.