By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - For the Montreal Canadiens, hockey's most successful team, the 1-0 loss to the New York Rangers in Game Six of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday meant another year added to their title drought.
But the ramifications of Montreal's loss will spread so much further than Quebec's largest city.
Hockey's Holy Grail has not resided with a Canadian team since Montreal won the last of their record 24 Cups in 1993 and the Rangers' advance to the Stanley Cup finals against either Chicago or Los Angeles means the fans in the Great North will need to wait at least another year.
"It weighs heavy no matter who you are," rugged defenceman P.K. Subban told Reuters by his locker after the defeat, shrugging off the suggestion of a particular sting for the Montreal franchise.
"When you have the opportunity to go to the Stanley Cup finals and you don't go, it sucks."
Defenceman Josh Gorges said it would be quiet flight home.
"It's tough for everybody. You never know if you get a chance at this again.
"It's frustrating any time your season comes to an end if you're not the team that's holding the Stanley Cup."
Despite the bitter loss, in which Montreal managed only 18 shots on goal against New York net minder Henrik Lundqvist, the Canadiens believed better days were head for their team.
"I've got to look around the season and we made some big progress this year," said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien.
"I'm proud of this hockey team."
Montreal advanced to the conference finals by stunning the league-best Boston Bruins, winning their semi-finals series by taking Game Seven in Boston 3-1.
The Canadiens, however, could not sustain that momentum against New York.
"I think the first two games were the key," said veteran center Daniel Briere, whose team lost the opening game 7-4 and the second by 3-1 in Montreal.
"To get beat twice in our building to start the series I think was the mistake we made. We did not come out with enough hatred I guess, right off the bat."
A bright light for Montreal was the inspired play of young goalie Dustin Tokarski, who stepped in for injured regular Carey Price from Game Two and helped them make a series of it.
"He was phenomenal for us," Gorges said about 24-year-old Tokarski, who had played in seven career NHL games over three seasons. He saved 31 of 32 shots in Game Six.
"For a guy that gets thrown into this, all of this, to be able to elevate his game and give us a chance to win every night that's all you ask of any goaltender. He should be very proud of the way he played."
Subban said the future looked good for Montreal.
"You look at guys like (Brendan) Gallagher and (Alex) Galchenyuk,(Michael) Bournival and young guys like that, guys who have never been in this situation before. It is a wealth of experience.
"They know what it takes. They're going to realize how hard it is to get back here."
Subban said he would benefit from Montreal's run as well.
"I've been very fortunate to have done it twice now in my career," he said about reaching the conference finals.
"I know that the next time I'll even be that much more prepared to have a berth in the Stanley Cup finals. This team will have many opportunities to do that in the near future."
(Editing by ......)