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Canadiens One Loss Away from Prolonging Droughts

May 24, 2010 – 9:59 AM
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A.J. Perez

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MONTREAL -- Jacques Demers is a member of the Canadian Senate and analyst for with French-language sports network RDS.

There's one title, however, he'd like shake: being known as the last coach to lead the Montreal Canadiens -- or any other team north of the border for that matter -- to the Stanley Cup.

"I felt honored," Demers says. "It was something I felt good about. That was good for three or so years -- not 17. No. No. No."

Demers admits he'll likely hold the tag for at least one more season as the Habs enter Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Philadelphia's Wachovia Center Monday night down 3-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers.

"I really can't see it happening," Demers says. "We'll see. They have come back against two unbelievable teams."

Flyers lead series, 3-1
Flyers vs. Canadiens: Series Page | Full NHL Playoffs Coverage

The Montreal Forum has become a movie theater and shopping mall, four NHL franchises were added, three others moved, a lockout wiped out a season and a salary cap was installed in the years since the Habs' won their record-setting 24th Cup.

The hard cap, Demers says, could be the main culprit for the longest stretch without a Cup since the Habs helped found the NHL in 1917.

"Most of the players are Canadian anyhow. In Canada, there are just as many Philly, Chicago or Boston fans [as there are in the U.S.] We don't dwell on stuff like that."
-- Don Cherry
"That created parity," Demers says. "You can't sway things with a budget of millions of dollars like some former powerhouses."

It's harder to explain why none of the other five Canadian franchises have also gone without a Cup.

"There's no way I would have believed in 17 years somebody from Canada wouldn't win," Demers says. "Montreal? Calgary? Vancouver? No way."

The Vancouver Canucks (1994), Calgary Flames (2004) and the Edmonton Oilers (2006) got the closest, each losing in seven games. The only other Canadian team to make to the finals were the 2007 Ottawa Senators, who lost in five games to the Anaheim Ducks -- the third consecutive franchise from a non-traditional hockey market to hoist the Cup.

"We've gotten a taste of it," CBS sportscaster Ron MacLean says. "Canadians every June are wondering how long this is going to go on. We are excited the Canadiens are in it. It's fun that they're part of the chase."

But his broadcasting partner on Hockey Night in Canada known for his patriotism and loud attire denies the drought is any sort of emotional drain on the country, which can still claim gold in Vancouver Games for both men's and women's hockey.

"Most of the players are Canadian anyhow," Don Cherry says. "In Canada, there are just as many Philly, Chicago or Boston fans [as there are in the U.S.] We don't dwell on stuff like that."

Follow four-time Stanley Cup winner Claude Lemieux around Bell Centre during a Habs game and you'll see these fans have pretty long memories, something to be expected with one of the most knowledgeable fan bases, where the love of the Habs is passed from generation to generation.

As he walks past a stand selling tall cans of Molson, a couple fans pull him aside and offer up a few words in French.

"They say I should be on the ice and I still look good enough to play," Lemieux translates.

Lemieux won his first and only Cup as a member of the Canadiens in 1986, a team he says he says compares favorably to this year's squad.

"They have a lot of great young players, like P.K. Subban," says Lemieux, who also won titles with the New Jersey Devils and Colorado Avalanche. "Nobody knew how good these kids can be and that's no different than what we had in '86. This team is flying under the radar."

That won't be the case if the Habs battle back from another 3-1 deficit -- like they did against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in the first round -- to advance to the Finals and maybe even the whole thing.

Then it would be another Jacques (Martin) taking over the mantle, although Demers still has the stories.

"People want to know how it was," Demers says. "I try to be honest without using clichés. It's something you will always feel good about and I love sharing."
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