'We're not satisfied': Canadiens enjoy improbable, fairy-tale run to Stanley Cup final
Underdog Habs 4 wins away from title after overcoming numerous in-season hurdles
The Montreal Canadiens fired their head coach in February, battled a COVID-19 outbreak in March and squeaked into the NHL post-season in May with the lowest point total of any playoff team.
Five weeks later, the Canadiens have booked passage to the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1993.
They roared back from a 3-1 series deficit in the first round to knock off the mighty Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games. They swept Connor Hellebuyck and the Winnipeg Jets in four.
And on Thursday in Montreal, they knocked out the Las Vegas Golden Knights with a 3-2 overtime victory in Game 6 to close out their Stanley Cup semifinal on St-Jean-Baptiste Day.
A team of destiny? Perhaps.
A team thriving without the weight of outside expectations? Most definitely.
WATCH | Lehkonen's OT marker sends Habs to Stanley Cup final:
Hockey is big business, but this team is having fun and defying the odds on an improbable, fairy-tale run.
Along the way, the underdogs have captured the hearts of many hockey fans across the country.
"The guys love playing for each other," says acting Montreal head coach Luke Richardson. "It feels like a celebration.
"We're not satisfied. We're just enjoying the ride and the run, because the players deserve it."
As a team, the Canadiens are greater than the sum of their parts. Their big names are arguably too old: Corey Perry and Eric Staal are 36, Shea Weber, 35. Their up-and-comers are arguably too young: Nick Suzuki is 21, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Cole Caufield just 20.
'We've been through a lot'
They are also banged up. Defenceman Jeff Petry is playing with two dislocated fingers, while Perry looks like a street fighter with a nasty gash on his nose courtesy of a high-stick from Vegas' Jonathan Marchessault in Game 3.
Their interim head coach, Dominique Ducharme, is in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 last week.
"We've been through a lot, for sure," Weber said. "I don't think now is the time to really sit back and dwell about it too much. There's still work to be done. We've got another series coming up. We've got to win another four games."
The Canadiens will face the powerhouse Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup finals starting on Monday, which streams on CBCSports.ca at 8 p.m. ET.
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"Everybody in this city is obviously ecstatic," said Price, who has a stellar goals-against average of 2.02 and save percentage of .934 in the playoffs. "It's a fun time to be in Montreal right now."
The Canadiens, as a team, are committed to playing a stifling defensive system that frustrates the opposition and creates offence on the rush. They score by committee, led by Tyler Toffoli, Suzuki, and Caufield, who looks like a boy but plays like a veteran.
"They're proud competitors," centre Phillip Danault said of the Canadiens' youngsters. "They work and do the right things every shift. They want to win.
"Legends are born in the playoffs."
Legends like Caufield, who started the playoffs in the press box and scored four goals in six games against Las Vegas.
"He's got such a great attitude," Price said of Caufield. "He's always so enthusiastic and happy, and he works really hard too."
WATCH | Fans celebrate during Habs game in downtown Montreal:
Mindful of his place, Caufield deflected the praise to the veterans — "the old guys" — in the locker room and the long-suffering Montreal fans dreaming of a repeat of 1993.
That year, the Canadiens upset Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings to win the Stanley Cup in five games. And they did it with attention to defensive detail, timely scoring and sensational goaltending.
It's all under the category of "history" for Caufield, who wasn't even born until 2001.
Danault, of Victoriaville, Que., was a baby when the Canadiens last won the Stanley Cup, but he perhaps better understands the magnitude of the moment.
The checking centre is now a legend himself after assisting on the overtime winner Thursday by Artturi Lehkonen.
"I feel blessed, very blessed, to be here, in Montreal," Danault said in between bites of post-game pizza. "To be in the Stanley Cup final, it's something amazing.
"It was a team effort all series. I'm so proud of us. Very proud."