It has been 28 years since the Canadiens were last there. It has been 10 years since a Canadian franchise was there. Yes, it has surely been a while, Now, in 2021, Montreal is going to the Stanley Cup Final.
“It’s really fun to see the guys enjoying themselves in the dressing room. They deserve it,” assistant coach Luke Richardson said postgame. Richardson is serving as head coach with Dominique Ducharme (COVID-19) out. “It’s hard to put into words how proud we are of them but they deserve it, and they’re not done yet. They still have fire in their eyes and are already talking about [the final].”
The Canadiens took a long road to get to this point, and that was just in 2021. Head coach Claude Julien was shown the door in February. The team finished 18th in the league (worst among playoff teams) with a .527 point percentage (24-21-11). Its first two playoff games against the Maple Leafs were losses.
But then things turned around and the Canadiens started winning. The plucky crew from the North Division dispatched the Leafs in seven, the Jets in four and now the Golden Knights in six.
“Honestly, we wouldn’t be here right now if we didn’t believe,” said netminder Carey Price, who then paused before saying: “We’ve always just kind of stuck with it and just not doubting ourselves.”
There was no doubting the series-winner. Just 99 seconds into overtime — yep, you read that right: 99 seconds — Phillip Danault fed Artturi Lehkonen on the left wing and the 25-year-old Finn buried the puck past Golden Knights netminder Robin Lehner.
Lehkonen’s third goal of the postseason (his other two came against the Jets in Games 3 and 4) sealed a 3-2 overtime win that sent the team over the boards and the crowd inside — and outside — Bell Centre into a frenzy.
“I feel blessed, very blessed to be here in Montreal and to achieve, you know, to be in the final, a Stanley Cup Final, it’s something amazing,” said Danault, who hails from the province after having (what has become a tradition) a slice of pizza postgame, on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day.
Shea Weber, one of the oldest players on the roster at 35, and Cole Caufield, one of the youngest at 20, scored the Canadiens’ other two goals.
The NHL awarded the Canadiens the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, which no one on the team touched, at center ice.
“Obviously there’s a bigger one out there that we’re chasing,” said Caufield who had also had some pizza thanks to his Zoom buddy Danault. “I think that’s the only thing that’s on our mind right now. It’s good to enjoy it. We’ve come a long way to get here but the job’s not finished.”
Montreal will now await the winner of Friday’s Game 7 between the Islanders and Lightning. Regardless of which team wins that series, the Canadiens will be heading south of the border to start the Stanley Cup Final.