Montreal has Canadians dreaming of Cup return

Fri May 14, 2010 6:00pm EDT
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MONTREAL (Reuters) - An astonishing post-season surge by the Montreal Canadiens is boosting the prospect that a Canadian team will bring the Stanley Cup home to the hockey-mad nation for the first time in nearly two decades.

Still basking in the glow of Canada's hockey gold at the Vancouver Games, Montreal's run has provided an unexpected bonus for a country that treats the game as religion.

Not since the Canadiens lifted the last of their record 24 Stanley Cups in 1993 has Lord Stanley's famous mug been paraded through the streets of a Canadian city.

Now, Canadians are sensing it may be time to pop the champagne.

The Canadiens opened their playoff party by pushing aside the Eastern Conference's top-seeded Washington Capitals before bouncing the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

Both of the series went the full seven games, prompting Canadians from Newfoundland to Victoria to rally behind the "The Little Team that Could."

Sneaking into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season, eighth-seeded Montreal is led by an undersized trio of forwards (Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez) popularly known as "The Smurfs."

Yet no one has come up bigger in the post-season than Jaroslav Halak, a fearless young Slovakian netminder who has many Canadians believing what was unthinkable a month ago.

The joy ride continues Sunday when the Canadiens face-off against either the Boston Bruins or Philadelphia Flyers in Game One of the Eastern Conference finals. The Flyers play Boston in a decisive Game Seven on Friday.   Continued...

<p>Montreal Canadiens fans celebrate their team's win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL Eastern Conference semi-final series in downtown Montreal, May 12, 2010. REUTERS/Shaun Best</p>