MONTREAL — There were tears on the streets of downtown Montreal Wednesday night, as the Canadiens ended their Stanley Cup run with a 1-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
For the fans outside the Bell Centre, where large crowds have gathered during games, there was still hope until the last second. “Just one goal,” was the cheer of the night.
Fan Vince Liburdi said there was no point in the game when he thought the team wasn’t going to win. Like the Canadiens fans who didn’t give up on their team, he credited the team’s playoff performance – and its first appearance in the Stanley Cup final since 1993 to heart.
“Heart, 100 per cent heart, no matter which way you look at it, skill only gets you so far, in playoffs it has to do with heart,” he said.
It was an improbable run from the beginning for the Canadiens. The team ended the NHL regular season ranked 18th in the league and was the fourth and final seed in the North Division that they would go on to win.
For many fans it was the team’s resurgence in the playoffs – and its comeback from a 3-1 deficit in its first round series against Toronto that made a comeback seem possible.
“We took Toronto after being down 3-1 and we swept Winnipeg in four, which was a pretty strong team, they beat Edmonton. And Vegas, I mean, these guys are monsters and we managed to get by them too, so you know what, we’ll just keep the hope up tonight and I think we’re going to win,” said fan Steve Abbott as he waited for the game to start at a bar in Montreal’s Plateau borough.
Many fans – including some who travelled long distances just to be in Montreal – described seeing the team make the Stanley Cup final for the first time in 28 years as a once in a lifetime experience.
Among the fans at a public game viewing event in Montreal’s Place des festivals on Monday night was a family who had travelled from Edmonton to cheer on the team. In the arena, there were also fans – from places like Toronto and Winnipeg – who had come to Montreal to cheer on the team that they’ve chosen to support over their hometown hockey teams.
For some fans, the Habs playoff run was about more than hockey.
“Certainly, in these COVID times, I feel like it's brought the city spirit up, something to look forward to, something to unite us again and just keep things exciting,” said fan Tara Chevrier as she headed to watch the game.
Despite the defeat, for many fans, the Canadiens first appearance in a Stanley Cup final since the team won hockey’s holy grail 28 years ago, was a victory in and of itself.
“I’ve got mixed feelings,” said fan Jeremy Climaco outside the Bell Centre after the game. “We made it, we made it this far, in a tough year, after whatever happened globally, this is the best moment that I got to live as a Montrealer.”
For some fans, the success of young players like Cole Caufield -- who made his NHL debut on April 26 -- Nick Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli, as well as the strong performance of veteran goaltender Carey Price gives them hope for next year.
“Despite our season, we still got to the finals, I'm proud that we got there and I feel that next year we're gonna come back and we're gonna win it,” said fan Aaron Faynshteyn.
While the team’s run was marked by celebrations, there were also occasional scenes of violence, as Montreal police used tear gas on celebrating fans outside the city’s arena on two separate occasions.
After an overtime win over Vegas on Quebec’s June 24 national holiday – which placed the team in the final – fans celebrated outside the arena with fireworks and, in some cases, vandalism. Eight police cars were vandalized that night and more than a dozen people were arrested. There were also four arrests on Monday night.
There were no fireworks outside the Bell Centre on Wednesday night.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press