One trophy ignored, Canadiens shift focus to the Stanley Cup

Sports

Montreal Canadiens pose with the Clarence Campbell trophy after defeating the Vegas Golden Knights to advance to the Stanley Cup finals following overtime in Game 6 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Thursday, June 24, 2021 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)

MONTREAL (AP) — Shea Weber and the Montreal Canadiens kept their hands off the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl after advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, and even rookie Cole Caufield had no interest in touching it.

“Obviously there’s a bigger one out there that we’re chasing, so I think that’s the only thing on our mind right now,” Caufield said, following a 3-2 OT semifinal series-ending win over Vegas in Game 6. “It’s good to enjoy it. We’ve come a long way to get here, but the job is not finished.”

Montreal is in the final for the 35th time in the franchise’s illustrious history and will face the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning for a chance to win an NHL-leading 25th championship. Not only do the Canadiens not celebrate second-place finishes, but perhaps it’s best Weber avoided the semifinal trophy typically given out to the Western Conference champion because Campbell is not well-liked in Quebec.

Campbell was the league president who suspended Maurice “Rocket” Richard for the remainder of the season and playoffs for hitting a linesman during a game in March 1955, leading to riots in Montreal. The Canadiens had never captured the trophy named for Campbell in their history — they’ve won the Prince of Wales a record 25 times — but in this unusual season with teams playing in reformatted visions that was the case Thursday night.

Now the focus turns toward the Cup, and there’s no such hatred toward namesake Lord Stanley.

“We got another series coming up,” said Weber, who’s playing in his first Cup final at age 35. “We’ve got to win four more games but definitely proud of everybody in that locker room right now and what we’ve accomplished so far. But definitely still work to be done.”

The Canadiens are on one of the more surprising runs in postseason history, erasing a 3-1 deficit against Toronto in the first round, sweeping Winnipeg in the second and shutting down heavily favored Vegas in six games in the third. Only minutes after giving up the series-deciding overtime goal to Artturi Lehkonen, Golden Knights netminder Robin Lehner said: “Hell of a team. Works really hard. Sticks with their structure and they have a lot of great players. Everyone underestimates them.”

Three-time Cup winner Patrick Sharp, now an NBC Sport analyst, expected Montreal to lose every round. Only after watching Canadiens goaltender Carey Price and his teammates frustrate Vegas did he realize he and so many others were just wrong.

“We should’ve known better,” Sharp said Friday. “It’s a team that’s got some belief, no question about that, and those teams are often the most dangerous this time of year.”

The lineup is also a perfect mix of veterans like Price, Weber, Corey Perry and Eric Staal who have been in plenty of playoff games before and young players like Caufield, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki.

The 20-year-old Caufield was playing college hockey as recently as March, and Suzuki just beat the Vegas organization that drafted and then traded him in a deal for former Montreal captain Max Pacioretty.

Price is the backbone, having stopped 495 of 530 shots to go into the final as a front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Like Weber, it will be his first final.

Credit also has to go to coaching, with Montreal heading into the final with assistant Luke Richardson as the third person behind the bench in the past four months. Interim coach Dominique Ducharme took over when Claude Julien was fired in February, and Richardson is filling in after Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus last week.

The Canadiens made sure Ducharme was on video from afar when they returned to their locker room Thursday night to share in the joy. Now that they’ve guaranteed at least four more games and their jubilant city is poised to celebrate, Ducharme could potentially return midway through the final.

With Ducharme on their minds, players quickly shifted from enjoying another series victory to thinking about trying to get another.

“They’re not done yet,” Richardson said. “They saw a fire in their eyes. They’re already talking about it. … Get right back at it. And we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

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Whyno reported from Washington.

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