Before this series turned bitter, it already was different. That always is the case when the Canadiens are involved. The Canadiens simply are different.
Different in a distinctive way, like the Yankees are different. In fact, there are many similarities between those franchises: Each is a true dynasty spanning multiple eras, their uniforms are iconic, their best players are legends, the team nickname reflects much more than just one city.
Yet the Canadiens are different from the Yankees, too. The hockey team has not carried its dominance into the Internet age (only one of its 23 Stanley Cups has come in the past 28 years). Nor are the Canadiens a worldwide marketing juggernaut. In a way, though, their reach goes deeper. They are an intrinsic part of the cultural identity of people for whom identity is everything.
This team is a 97-year-old ambassador for French-speaking Quebec and its influence can be seen on every team in the National Hockey League, including the one it played in Game 4 of the conference finals Sunday night.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was born in Quebec City and grew up rooting for the Nordiques, but he recognizes the pull of the Canadiens. When he was asked before Game 2 at the Bell Centre if Derick Brassard was being kept out of the lineup merely as a precaution after he was injured in Game 1, Vigneault gave a you've-got-to-be-kidding look and pointed out there was no question Brassard was too hurt to play.
"[You] couldn't stop a French guy from playing in Montreal,'' he said.
It is hard for people outside of Montreal to believe how much the team means to the culture up there. Marc Bergevin, a former Islander who was assistant general manager for the Blackhawks before being named the Canadiens' general manager in 2012, described the fans this way last week: "They live and breathe hockey. Coming from Chicago, you have the White Sox, the Bears, the Bulls. But this is all in one. It's their team. They love their team.''
Just about everything concerning the Canadiens is different. Theirs is the only team in North American major league sports that operates in two languages: from the singing of the national anthem to announcements about who scores the goals to news conferences.
The passion-fueled uniqueness goes much further. Soon after taking office as Montreal mayor last November, Denis Corderre had many serious issues on his plate. But what was one of his first high-profile acts? He issued this tweet about a then-struggling young center: "Hello? A one-way ticket to Hamilton for David Desharnais please . . . ''
More evidence that the Canadiens operate in a different world, one that often has a more positive effect. They had a great impact on a player who has had a great impact on the Rangers this spring.
"I grew up a Canadiens fan,'' Martin St. Louis said, adding that he had Mats Naslund memorabilia in his room. "Every Saturday night, I watched hockey night in Canada in French with my dad. I lived and breathed the Canadiens growing up. They were a big source of inspiration to get where I wanted to be.''