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Fans react as they watch the game four of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals between the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning in Montreal on July 5, 2021.ANDREJ IVANOV/Reuters

An overtime goal by Josh Anderson kept the Montreal Canadiens’ Stanley Cup dream alive and made Luke Mawhinney’s last-minute trip to Montreal all the sweeter.

The Burlington, Ont. native drove eight-and-a-half hours Monday morning from his student residence at the University of Windsor to Montreal. He rode with a fellow Habs fan he barely knew before their voyage – all to see the Canadiens play Game 4 of the Cup Final.

Anderson’s second goal of the night saved the Canadiens from being swept and validated Mawhinney’s decision to make the trek.

“I’ve been waiting my entire life for a Stanley Cup Final – you don’t know when this is going to happen again,” he said. “It was totally worth the drive.”

On Monday evening, before the game-winning goal, the Canadiens were poised to become the first team to be swept in the Stanley Cup Finals since 1998. Only one team in NHL history – the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs – has come back from a three-game deficit in the Final and won the Cup.

But this squad was never supposed to be here in the first place. It was last in the league to qualify for the playoffs. Its top snipers are too young to grow proper playoff beards. Montrealers are just happy to be invited to the party.

The city seemed unfazed on Monday by the obstacles standing between its team and hockey’s holy grail. The sale of team merchandise and the influx of sports fans to business-starved bars and restaurants has bolstered the local economy, still recovering from punishing pandemic lockdowns. The streets were filled with roaring fans, Canadiens beer knapsacks (capacity: 24 cans of cold, refreshing Coors Light), Canadiens neck sleeves repurposed as COVID masks, and ubiquitous images of Brendan Gallagher’s blood-streaked face.

Mawhinney is 21. He was born seven years too late to witness the Canadiens’ last Stanley Cup in 1993. By then, the Canadiens were winning about one Cup every three years. Fans who remember the glory days are not as easy to please as recent ones. For old-timers, winning is an expectation. They’re like the Yankee fans of hockey.

That expectation has not matched with the team’s actual standing in today’s 31-team league. Since the Canadiens’ last Cup, they’ve missed the playoffs almost as many times as they’ve made them. Their current lineup, with three of their top six playoff scorers being 21 or younger, is more of an up-and-comer than a dynastic powerhouse.

Many fans, draped in the bleu, blanc, et rouge, frankly admitted before the end of Monday’s game that they no longer expected to win it all. Eric Brunelle, a season ticket holder and professor of sports management at the HEC Montréal business school, was hoping for one measly win before his team’s inevitable defeat at the hands of the mighty Lightning.

The Habs don’t really have a chance to win the Cup, he said. “Have you seen the numbers?” All he wanted now was a face-saving victory in Game 4: “For our honour.”

Brunelle reveled in the controlled chaos outside the Bell Centre, which included a walk-in vaccination clinic outside the arena (“Vaccin, vaccin vaccin vaccin,” chanted one nurse, to the tune of Olé Olé Olé). Police officers, primed for unrest, wore almost as much protective gear as Habs goalie Carey Price. Montreal police Constable Veronique Comtois said the city would bolster the police presence for the final round, after having to make 15 arrests during a riot in the moments after the Canadiens defeated the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup semifinals.

Fan rowdiness has since abated. The Lightning toyed with the Canadiens so much in the first three games that Tampa Bay Mayor Jane Castor half-joked that the Bolts should “take it a little bit easy” and cede game four on purpose so they could win the Cup on home ice.

“Win or lose, we should be proud of what they accomplished,” said Canadiens fan Jessica Landry. “No one thought they’d make it this far.”

The 24 year-old from Montreal, who had already spent $3,000 on tickets, wants no less than for her team to win the Stanley Cup. Still, she understands that three more straight wins against last year’s champions is a tall order.

“Honestly, all I wanted was to beat the Leafs,” she said.