(Reuters) – Canada’s Stanley Cup drought will continue for at least another year after the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 on Wednesday to cap a successful National Hockey League title defence and heap more misery on an ice hockey-mad nation.
Not since 1993 has a Canada-based franchise lifted Lord Stanley’s treasured trophy, and that winless run will extend to a 29th year after the magic ran out on the Canadiens’ postseason adventure.
Montreal were a 50-to-1 longshot when the playoffs began seven weeks ago but they defied the odds to become the first Canadian club to reach the final since the Vancouver Canucks a decade ago.
After a regular season played in empty buildings due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Canadiens gave a pandemic weary country a lift with their improbable run to the finals.
“What a season for our @CanadiensMTL,” tweeted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had backed the Canadiens to beat the Lightning in a “friendly wager” with U.S. President Joe Biden.
“You’ve kept us on the edge of our seats during these playoffs – and we can’t wait to see you here again next year.”
To reach the Stanley Cup Final, Montreal stormed back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round, swept the Winnipeg Jets in four games in the second and then ousted the Vegas Golden Knights in six games.
In the best-of-seven Final, the Canadiens again found themselves trailing the series 3-1 but this time there was no escape as the Lightning finished the job on home ice.
Montreal was the last Canada-based team to lift the coveted Cup in 1993 and an entire generation of Canadiens fans have grown up without experiencing a connection to the “Habs'” glorious past and their NHL-record 24 championships.
But as COVID-19 restrictions ease, those fans filled Montreal streets around their home arena to revel in the pursuit and cheer on their team.
“They bled, they fought, they never quit,” said Montreal coach Dominique Ducharme. “I’m proud of this group, I told the guys we had to go through a lot of things — injuries, scheduling, COVID — many things we kept moving forward.
“We want to make it back here with a different result.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Peter Rutherford)