The Montréal Canadiens just completed their most successful season in more than two decades. Their magical playoff run ended with Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. Afterward, the Habs and Bolts engaged in the time-honoured playoff tradition and concluded a hard-fought series with a handshake line. Although on the wrong end of the game and ultimately the Stanley Cup Final, the Canadiens nevertheless lost with dignity and grace.
The same cannot be said for some members of the championship-winning Lightning, including the team’s leading playoff scorer Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov’s comments on the Canadiens’ performance irked many fans on social media. However, it’s important to know the context behind the press conference. The Canadiens and their fans should be proud anyway, regardless of what he said.
Kucherov’s Press Conference Came in the Midst of a Celebration
It needs to be said that because Kucherov’s team won the Stanley Cup, and there was obvious celebrating going on in the dressing room afterward. Common knowledge tells us that a celebration of that calibre involves the spraying of champagne and the drinking of alcohol. It was pretty clear that Kucherov had already partaken in some imbibing, as his postgame presser quickly became the stuff of legend among Lightning fans and neutral hockey fans alike, spawning a series of incredibly memorable (and hilarious) quotes.
However, it was his comments about the Canadiens and their fans that caused the controversy. Kucherov quickly sought to diminish the accomplishments of the Canadiens and belittle their fans for having lost the Stanley Cup.
Kucherov criticized Canadiens fans for celebrating their team’s overtime victory in Game 4, suggesting that it wasn’t worth a celebration. He believed it was unwarranted, saying:
“They acted like they won the Stanley Cup last game. Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? Their final was last round.”Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov on Montréal Canadiens fans celebrating the Game 4 victory.
Many on social media were angered by Kucherov’s comments, calling him classless and a sore winner, among those who chose to call out what they believed was arrogance and a rather large ego. While some of his comments were a little disparaging, it’s important to remember he was in the middle of a Stanley Cup celebration and (very likely) a few Bud Lights deep when he stepped to the podium.
Canadiens & Their Fans Have Lots to Be Proud Of
In no uncertain terms, the Canadiens and their fans don’t need to take Kucherov’s comments at face value. They accomplished something that very few (if any) believed they could. They matched up against serious contenders in each round of the playoffs, defeating the heavily favoured Toronto Maple Leafs in a seven-game first-round series after going down three games to one. They ran roughshod over the Winnipeg Jets, sweeping them in four straight. In their first matchup with an American club — and one which featured this year’s Vezina Trophy winner in Marc-André Fleury — they shut down one of the league’s top offences, not allowing a single goal to the Vegas Golden Knights’ lethal power play. They reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in over 25 years and made Canada an NHL contender once again.
Carey Price played like he was the best goaltender on the planet, going 13-9-0 with a 2.28 goals against average (GAA) and a .924 save percentage (SV%) in 22 games. Rookies Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield held individual coming-out parties. Caufield and Suzuki were ever-present, finishing first and third in team playoff scoring, respectively (Suzuki led the Canadiens with 16 playoff points; Caufield had 12). Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli proved Marc Bergevin was right all along, with Toffoli contributing 14 points and Anderson scoring the overtime winner in Game 4 of the Cup Final. Many underrated players had a hand in some huge moments. Artturi Lehkonen potted the OT winner against Vegas, while Paul Byron scored a short-handed tally against the Maple Leafs.
The Canadiens proved they can compete and outdo some of the league’s best. They proved that everything eventually falls into place. The rebuild is working. The best part is the rebuild isn’t quite done yet. The Canadiens are well on their way, and fans have a lot to look forward to, especially knowing that they’ll be going up against every team in the league next season.
Covering the Montréal Canadiens and other topics for The Hockey Writers. Also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs and progressive rock music.