No Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens.
The 2021 version of the team has a shot at ending that drought after defeating the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in overtime in Game 6 in Montreal on Thursday night. The Canadiens are the first Canadian team to reach the Stanley Cup Final since the 2011 Vancouver Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins.
Artturi Lehkonen scored the winning goal for Montreal 1:39 into overtime.
The game was decided off a faceoff in the Montreal end, and after goaltender Carey Price held his ground to stop former Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty set up in the left circle. Montreal’s Nick Suzuki gained the Vegas zone and slipped a pass to his left to Lehkonen, who lifted a shot beating Robin Lehner high on the short side.
Cole Caufield and captain Shea Weber also scored, as Montreal will make its playoff-leading 35th Stanley Cup Final appearance with a shot to add to its 24 championships.
Montreal clinched the league’s final playoff spot with 59 points. After trailing 3-1 in the first round, the Canadiens have won 11 of their last 13 games to upset the Toronto Maple Leafs (77 points) and Winnipeg Jets (63) in the North Division and then the Golden Knights (82) in the Stanley Cup semifinals.
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The roots of the playoff run started in the offseason when Marc Bergevin, the runner-up for the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award, brought in a host of former Stanley Cup winners. They included forwards Tyler Toffoli and Corey Perry, defenseman Joel Edmundson and backup goalie Jake Allen. Eric Staal, who won the Stanley Cup in 2006, was added before the trade deadline.
The Canadiens also had to overcome adversity throughout the season. They fired coach Claude Julien on Feb. 24 and named Dominique Ducharme interim coach. They also fired goalie coach Stephane Waite and named Sean Burke director of goaltending. They had a grinding schedule at the end to make up for games postponed by COVID-19 protocol.
Just as Price was turning around his game, he suffered a concussion in April. Forward Brendan Gallagher broke his thumb, leaving the Canadiens without two key players down the stretch.
But both returned for the playoffs. Price has been the key, helping the Canadiens to a 11-2 postseason record when they score the first goal. The team’s big defensemen are clearing out the crease to help him see shots, and Montreal is getting contributions from veterans (Toffoli, Perry, Staal) and youngsters (Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi).
They even encountered adversity in the semifinals because Ducharme tested positive for COVID hours before Game 3.
“I feel like we’ve always responded well to adversity, and tonight was just another example,” Price said. “Not having Dom behind the bench is just another twist we had to deal with.”
Luke Richardson, named the interim coach, won three out of four games to advance.
The Canadiens will face the winner of Game 7 between the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders.