MONTREAL – Montreal Canadiens fans experienced a mixture of pride and dejection on Thursday night after watching their heroes get eliminated from the NHL playoffs.
The Habs, the only Canadian team to make this year’s post-season, saw their Stanley Cup dreams extinguished as the New York Rangers eked out a 1-0 victory in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference final.
Although the game was played in New York, the Bell Centre in Montreal was packed once again as the decisive matchup was broadcast on giant screens for a sold-out crowd.
Fans emerging from the arena after the game were obviously disappointed but there was no trouble downtown.
Helmeted, riot-equipped police stood watch along Ste-Catherine Street but even many of them didn’t stay around too long.
It was in sharp contrast to the final game of Montreal’s previous series, against the Boston Bruins, when police lined the street to protect businesses from rowdy fans.
On Thursday night, although there was the occasional vocal outburst from unhappy or frustrated fans, Montrealers appeared to accept the defeat as they quietly headed home.
Emilie Quilliams, 18, said her disappointment at the playoff exit was tempered by seeing the Canadiens reach the semifinals.
“I’m still proud of them,” she said. “For them to come to the second-to-last round of the playoffs, it’s something that we haven’t seen in quite a while, so I was really happy for them.”
Many fans were already looking ahead to next season, particularly after a gritty playoff performance that included goaltender Dustin Tokarski filling in admirably for starter Carey Price, who was injured early in the Rangers series.
Joe Kutlu, 40, heaped praise galore on Tokarski and urged the Canadiens to sign him up.
“They bring up a goalie who is a legend right now and he’s going to be known and I’m guessing a lot of players are really going to admire him for years to come,” Kutlu said.
Jean-Francois Belisle echoed the sentiments of many fans as he looked at the season with a sense of accomplishment.
“I’m proud of the Canadiens’ season, I’m not angry,” he said. “Obviously, it would have been great to go further but it was a good match, a good series and good playoffs.”
The Canadiens were a pleasant playoff surprise for their faithful, sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round and then defeating the Bruins, the league’s top team, in seven in the next round.
The Habs were the last Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup when they defeated the Los Angeles Kings in 1993.
The Rangers, who last won the trophy in 1994, will play either the Kings or the Chicago Blackhawks in the final.
Thursday night’s game was the third time this post-season that Habs fans had been able to attend the Bell Centre to see their team play on the road.