The Montreal Canadiens came up agonizingly short Wednesday in their against-all-odds campaign to end Canada’s 28-year Stanley Cup drought.
Instead, it was the Tampa Bay Lightning successfully defending their Cup title, edging the Habs 1-0 at home in a physical, hard-fought nailbiter to claim the series four games to one.
The game’s only goal came after 33 scoreless minutes, when Ross Colton — playing in his first Stanley Cup final — tipped home David Savard’s pass as it drifted through the crease behind a surprised Carey Price.
Price left the net in the game’s final minute to give the Canadiens an extra attacker, but it was to no avail.
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The loss extends the championship deficit for the Canadiens, whose last Cup victory — the last time a Canadian team claimed the game’s holy grail — came at the end of the Lightning’s debut season in 1993.
“I played on a lot of really good teams with a lot of really good guys — it’s hard right now, sorry,” an emotional Brendan Gallagher said afterward, struggling to contain his disappointment.
“We’ve got so many players that worked their entire career to get to this point. And it’s a tough pill to swallow.”
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Bolts netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 22 shots en route to the victory, his fifth straight series-clinching shutout win, and collected the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP for his trouble. Price turned away 29 shots.
Both the Habs and the Lightning went 0 for 3 on the power play.
“This group has a lot of character and were up against a lot of adversity this year and we proved a lot of people wrong — and in a tough year, to boot, where things weren’t normal,” Shea Weber said after the game.
“The guys stuck together and battled hard and obviously, you know, I wouldn’t change it for anything and I’m super proud of these guys.”
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For some of Montreal’s younger superstars, the unlikely campaign was a rare chance to experience professional hockey at its pinnacle, a teachable moment they can only hope will present itself again.
“This is what you play for, to have that opportunity — once, twice, maybe even if that — in your career,” young star forward Cole Caufield said after the team’s pre-game skate.
“Obviously, you can get pretty stressed out in times like these, but this is you playing hockey, the best game in the world, and you can’t take it for granted. But you’ve got to enjoy every moment you can.”
Interim head coach Dominique Ducharme was similarly contemplative.
“You have to embrace those moments and embrace those challenges,” Ducharme said. “It’s part of hockey, it’s part of life. That’s the way we handle it.”
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