Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov had the right idea, just the wrong, disrespectful wording. Celebrating his team’s Stanley Cup Final win over the Montreal Canadiens, Kucherov trolled Habs fans by suggesting they overcelebrated their team’s Game 4 overtime victory.
If Kucherov thinks that how Canadiens fans celebrate a Stanley Cup Final victory, he clearly needs to report back once he wins a couple (dozen) more championships. At this point, Montrealers are veritable pros at celebrating them. And, all due respect to the Lightning and their two straight well-deserved Cups, considering the salary-cap hell they’re in store for this coming offseason due in large part to Kucherov’s $9.5 million hit, his third is unlikely to come in Tampa, at least not for the foreseeable future.
To be fair, Kucherov was technically correct in the sense that the Habs’ proving the doubters wrong to get as far as they did was a moral victory in a lot of ways. Regardless, any suggestion the Habs or their fans were satisfied to get to where they ended up is misguided. It’s not the result Canadiens fans wanted, even if a loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning was undeniably the likeliest outcome heading into the Stanley Cup Final.
As Brendan Gallagher, visibly and understandably heartbroken immediately after the game, said: “I know we probably surprised a lot of people, but our expectations were to be the team celebrating right now. That’s why it hurts so much, because we tell [the media] all the time how much we believed. It wasn’t a line.”
While the wounds won’t heal for some time, there’s at least a good chance they won’t scar, though. After all, as disappointing as the defeat is, the Canadiens can (eventually) find comfort in the following positives:
Canadiens Contending Ahead of Schedule
Heading into this season, the quasi-realistic hope had been that the Canadiens would win at least a single series and build on their first-round exit at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2020. That was really all Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin needed to be able to call this past Habs season a success with a straight face.
From there, with one season left on Bergevin’s current deal, the Canadiens would have ideally risen to contender status ahead of its expiry. So, you can technically check that off the list, because, almost by the very definition of a Stanley Cup finalist, the Canadiens are contenders again. Good thing too, because reports are Bergevin’s hypothetical extension is in the works ahead of schedule too.
Of course, to become perennial contenders should be the ultimate goal, and there are no guarantees the Canadiens reach even Round 2 next season. Nevertheless, after enjoying as much success as the Canadiens have this posteason, there’s a good chance Bergevin is just as active in the offseason as last so as to build on the success the Habs’ run.
Canadiens Resting on Their Laurels Is Not an Option
Forget Round 2 (for now). Admittedly, it remains to be seen if the Canadiens so much as make it back to the playoffs next season, assuming they return to the Atlantic Division, which features the likes of the Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers.
However, much like the Nashville Predators did in 2017-18, after falling short against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Final in 2017, they can just as easily ride the wave of momentum to a solid season. Remember: the Predators entered the 2017 postseason as heavy underdogs against the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks.
In fact, much like the Canadiens this past regular season, the Predators were the playoff team with the least amount of points. Nevertheless, the following season, they won the Presidents’ Trophy. Can the Canadiens manage something similar? They’re going to have find a way if they want to win with this current core with Shea Weber (36) and Carey Price (34) as old as they are.
In effect, the Canadiens getting as far as they did is a double-edged sword. In order for Bergevin and the Habs to progress next season, they technically have to win it all, which isn’t realistic considering how unlikely them getting through three rounds was this time, especially with the clear deficiencies facing this team on their quest to a Stanley Cup. Ultimately, the Canadiens reached the Final, because they were arguably built for the playoffs. They lost in decisive fashion to the Lightning, because they weren’t built as well. No one, not even Bergevin, can deny that.
The Good Part About the Lightning Winning
Yes, ideally for the Canadiens, they would have won it all. There’s no disputing that and it’s hard to sugarcoat the loss for Habs fans. However, for fans of other teams and hockey in general, this was the best possible outcome. The clear-cut better team won and, in a copycat league, objective observers would probably enjoy watching imitators of the Lightning’s brand of hockey than the Canadiens’ tight checking.
True, the Lightning were as successful as they were because they exploited a loophole to and shelved Kucherov’s cap hit during the regular season. Despite being up against the cap, they effectively gained a Hart Memorial Trophy-caliber talent at the start of the playoffs as a result. There’s no denying that. There’s also little denying the Lightning, with very much the same team, won it all last season too, just without the whining of them having cheated. They didn’t then and they didn’t now, with the Canadiens also taking advantage of Brendan Gallagher’s injury down the stretch to use the extra space to add at the deadline.
Similar to how the Dallas Stars reached the Stanley Cup Final last season as a clear underdog (albeit as the fourth-best Western Conference team) only to lose to the Lightning, the Canadiens did this season, which is good too. It means it’s at least possible to and fan bases all over the league can hold out hope.
Of course, with the Stars missing the playoffs this season, things can change on a dime. It’s up to Bergevin to ensure the Habs maintain some semblance of success. Now that the Habs and their fans have had a taste, nothing can possibly taste as sweet as a sip from the Stanley Cup in the near future.
Sure, it took 28 years for the Canadiens to win another Stanley Cup Final game, which, Mr. Kucherov, is what Habs fans were truly celebrating. However, the Lightning just showed back-to-back trips to the Final are possible in this era. Don’t forget though, the Canadiens just proved the improbable is possible on their end too. Dare to dream, but don’t sleep on the Canadiens moving forward, especially if Bergevin and company make the right moves between now and next postseason.They’re, just about as literally as possible, right there… or at least they just were. Logically, they should have an idea of what it will take to get back.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.