By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
It was a proud, blaring headline, and it signaled a common local sentiment.
“CUP COMES HOME,” screamed the Montreal Gazette’s front page on the morning of Thursday, June 10, 1993, mere hours after the hometown Canadiens clinched the Stanley Cup and ensured it would rest on Canadian soil for the next year.
Ever since, however, that has not happened again. Zero north-of-the-border triumphs in nearly three decades. Even now, as the Canadiens battle the Tampa Bay Lightning for the right to wrest Lord Stanley’s prized chalice out of American hands for the first time in 28 years, it might be a forlorn hope.
Yes, there will be a pair of Stanley Cup Final games played in Canada on Friday and Monday, which has extra meaning given that a Canadian team has not hosted a Stanley Cup Final game since 2011. But Montreal is already in an 0-2 hole against the defending champions. Sure, the Cup is coming home, but it might be only for a drive-by visit.
Canada feels and acts like hockey’s primary residence, but recent results haven’t backed up that cultural reality. Time and again, Canada’s seven NHL franchises have come up short, either long before the NHL playoffs even got underway or swiftly once they started.
It is, frankly, a bizarre paradox. The place that loves hockey like no other, that produces far more NHL players than any other, that lives and breathes the game, can’t get one of its teams over the line. Or, mostly, particularly close to it.
There are various reasons for this, a popular one being that hockey is so intensely ingrained and passionately followed in Canada that organizations are sometimes encumbered from launching into necessary rebuilds. That’s a level of pressure most of the U.S.-based teams don’t have to deal with on the same scale.
You’d think this now interminable drought might be enough for some general rousing of national pride and a rallying cry behind the Canadiens in the hope they can “do it for Canada.”
That’s not really how things work up there, though. Being so dominant for much of hockey’s early history ensured that the Canadiens will never be loved and will scarcely even be tolerated by their national rivals.
“With an NHL-best 23 Cups in 103 years and thus a long history of looking down their noses at all comers, envy and exasperation could supersede any sentiments of other markets getting behind Montreal as ‘Canada’s Team,’” the Gazette’s Lance Hornby wrote. “That’s just too much re-wiring a vast support network that goes way back in some cases to language and cultural differences.”
Naturally, there will be plenty of support within Quebec. Tickets at Bell Centre are restricted to a capacity of 3,500, and the cheapest were changing hands on the secondary market for around $1,000. Pandemic-appropriate watch parties have been arranged all over the region.
However, if les habitants — the Habs — are to find a way to the championship, it would surpass even the spectacular story that has been required to get them this far.
A fourth-place finish in the North Division squeezed them into the postseason before they overturned a 3-1 deficit to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs and then swept the Winnipeg Jets. The Vegas Golden Knights were expected to be too strong, but the Canadiens have been riding the wave, bolstered by the offensive excellence of Nick Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli, each with 14 postseason points, and barricading goalie Carey Price.
Regardless, after dropping the first two to Tampa, the Canadiens were a grim-looking +900, per FOX Bet, to win the series heading into Friday night.
“Unfortunately, I think there’ll be a lot more people outside of the building than inside, which will be a little bit different, but we know that they’re there,” Montreal veteran Eric Staal told reporters. “We know that the support is there. And we know that everybody is as excited as we are to be in this position.
“The series is a long way from being over.”
That might be just optimistic words, for the Lightning look every bit a modern hockey juggernaut just waiting to claim another prize.
Or Staal might be right, and from the perspective of wanting this series to turn into a gripping spectacle, let’s hope so. If not … well, the drought continues, for at least one more year, with one more dose of disappointment.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author for the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.
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