Their team won't break the 15-year drought for Stanley Cup winners in Canada, but it didn't take long for Montreal fans to realize they had nothing to complain about.
Obviously there was disappointment in the Bell Centre as the final seconds ticked down on the Canadiens season that ended with a 6-4 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers tonight. But rather than express any of it, they instead stood and began a long ovation that told their team it was really okay. That there was nothing to be ashamed about for losing a series in just five games when they were heavily favored to win.
It was a show of understanding for a team that everyone probably realized was lucky to get the series as far as it did.
Montreal stole an overtime win in the opening game, but the Flyers essentially dominated the series from start to finish and closed it out in the face of the Canadiens best and most desperate effort. Philadelphia advanced to the conference finals mainly because its goalie Martin Biron was in a zone -- a sharp contrast to his counterpart Carey Price -- and a depth player named R.J. Umberger suddenly turned into a scoring sensation. But there were clear differences between the two teams, and never more apparent than in the final game of the series.
The Canadiens were desperate in Game 5 and they came out like gangbusters, taking a lead for the first time in the series before the game was five minutes old. Montreal's first goal even came on their power play, which was the league's best this season,but had gone missing in the playoffs, especially in this round. So there was something for Montreal to build on and maybe for the Flyers to be concerned about,. After all, Philadelphia was forced to a seventh game by Washington in the first round after the Flyers held a 3-1 series lead.
Biron didn't have his best stuff on this night either, which became clear after Umberger tied it halfway through the first period. The Flyers netminder didn't look particularly sharp in giving up the next two goals, and when the Philadelphia failed to convert a two-man power play, it might have been realistic for them to be thinking about going home for Game 6.
"From the start it seemed like it might be their night," Umberger said on the Versus network after the game. "But we stuck with it."
And they had the good fortune of having a 20-year-old rookie who was struggling to shoot at. Price, who was benched in Game 4, looked like he was back in his groove when he stopped Mike Richards on an early breakaway, but he gave up a soft goal to Richards 14 minutes into the second period, and didn't respond well. It took Philadelphia less than three more minutes to add another pair and go into the dressing room with a lead.
Montreal drew even early in the third period when Andrei Kostitsyn scored, but Price was beaten for the winner on a long shot tipped by Scottie Upshall late before Mike Knuble sealed it with an empty netter an 19:10.
That's when the standing ovation began. The Canadiens season ended on a sour note, but it was really far more than anyone could have expected. Montreal was not picked by many to make the playoffs for a second consecutive season, but they ended up finishing first overall in the Eastern Conference. They had the league's best offense, more speed than just about anyone and a great young corps of players, with more in the system.
That might have been why many allowed themselves to believe in some destiny coming into the playoffs, because the historic franchise had been led to Stanley Cups twice by rookie goalies.
Still that was a lot to expect, although Price showed the potential to do so after Montreal made him the No. 1 by trading away veteran Cristobal Huet at the deadline. It was a controversial move because the Canadiens were legitimate contenders at the time and set themselves up to go to the playoffs with two freshmen at the most important position. But Price had a rare pedigree of winning at high levels, and he was superb down the stretch as Montreal beat out the Penguins for the conference title.
Price looked just as sharp early in the first round against Boston, but he started to look flustered late in that series and it grew worse against the Flyers. Price seemed to be refocused after his benching, but he didn't get much help from his defense in the last game and ultimately he proved to be simply a 20 year old who just wasn't ready to lead his team further right now.
He'll get another chance and so will this team. And that's something to look forward to, not complain about.