MONTREAL — As Montreal Canadiens fans left the Bell Centre on Tuesday night, their bitter disappointment at the team’s exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs appeared somewhat offset by how their heroes battled back against Tampa Bay.
“They played well but we have to give Tampa Bay the credit,” said Andrew Dimitri, 24.
“They came out ready. (Lightning goaltender Ben) Bishop played a good game. He stopped us when he had to. Their good players came up when they had to.
“I’m proud of my boys. It was 3-0 (in games for) Tampa Bay. We were able to push back a bit. We almost brought it back to Montreal.”
While Tuesday’s Game 6 was played in Florida, it was broadcast on giant screens at the Bell Centre, where fans were hoping they would be able to see the Canadiens in person on Thursday in a winner-take-all Game 7.
Instead, many started pouring out with 10 minutes left in the game and Tampa Bay holding a 3-0 lead that ended in a 4-1 victory.
The evening started off with a party-type atmosphere with fans pumped as they watched their team hit the ice thousands of kilometres away and try to win a third straight game after losing the first three.
The mood started to change early in the second period as Tampa made it 2-0 and those inside the building became even more deflated when the Lightning scored on the power play with just over a minute left in the period to take a three-goal lead.
Laurie Deakin, 31, said she and her sister Melissa, 29, have been cheering on the Canadiens “since we were born, basically.”
She expressed disappointment at the playoff loss but not in the team’s performance.
“The Lightning were really a tough competitor for us,” Deakin said. “That’s what happened there. Bishop was really on top of his game tonight.
“I had really had high hopes they were going to win but in the end they didn’t. But it doesn’t mean I’m disappointed in them. I still think they gave it their heart and they gave it their all. And that’s all you can ask for as a hockey fan, right?”
There was a police presence around the downtown arena but nothing like that seen in some previous years when authorities feared widespread vandalism and violence.
Montreal has witnessed scenes of torched police cruisers and smashed shop windows in some years but the downtown core, including busy Ste-Catherine Street, was calm after Tuesday’s game.
Melissa Deakin echoed her sister in extolling the virtues of the Canadiens, who defeated the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs.
“I’m really proud of them,” she said. “They did well. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it to the end but I’m still proud of my Habs. I honestly thought they would make it.”
Omar Rodriguez said he was “disappointed, sad, depressed” about the elimination.
“But I give them credit,” he said. “At least they fought back to make this a series. To be down 0-3 is really tough to come back.”
Many of the fans at the Bell Centre were likely not even born when Montreal defeated the Los Angeles Kings to win the Stanley Cup in 1993 — the last time a Canadian franchise has had its name on hockey’s holy grail.
Peter Rakobowchuk , The Canadian Press