By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — When the format of this unique NHL season was announced, it didn’t take long for some people to spot one fascinating quirk: A Bruins-Canadiens Stanley Cup Final was possible.

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When Montreal made it into the postseason with the fewest points of all playoffs teams by virtue of being in the underwhelming seven-team North Division, the possibility remained.

When the Canadiens absolutely stunned the city of Toronto with a first-round upset, while the Bruins had eliminated the Capitals in five games, the dream was still alive. We didn’t think the Canadiens — who went 24-21-11 in the regular season — actually had a chance of getting to the Cup Final. But it was fun to think about.

And yet, here we are. The Canadiens eliminated the Golden Knights on Thursday night to advance to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1993.

And the Bruins are at home. Playing golf. Driving a boat maybe. Watching the games on TV. Not gearing up to play the Habs with the Stanley Cup on the line.

That’s a shame.

Obviously, a Bruins-Canadiens Cup Final would not have been unprecedented. Far from it. The two rivals met in the Cup Final seven times in their histories. Montreal dominated, winning all seven series, and winning 26 of the 33 games. Yikes.

But one of those series took place in 1930. We’re all a little fuzzy on the details with that one. (How’d they even make ice in 1930?) Another happened in 1946. Three of them happened in the ’50s — 1953, 1957, and 1958. Some old-timers might have some vague recollections of those games, and it would be awesome to hear their tales. Alas, most of the living among us didn’t get to experience those series.

The two most “recent” ones — 1977 and 1978 — still took place more than 40 years ago. Ken Dryden sucked the fun out of those ones for Boston.

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A format change in the early ’80s eliminated the possibility of teams from the same conference meeting in the Cup Final, creating the East-West dynamic that carried on until this year, when COVID forced a playoff format that can best be described as “Whack It Up.”

And we could have had a Bruins-Canadiens Final. These two teams haven’t played each other since Feb. 12, 2020. Cole Caufield was still at Wisconsin. Claude Julien was still Montreal’s coach. Virtually nobody in North America — outside of virologists and such — had any knowledge or concern about the novel coronavirus. It was, quite literally, a different world. For a rivalry as heated as this one, a gap of that much time was simply not right. It threw the universe off balance.

There would have been no better way for that long break to come to an end than a meeting with Lord Stanley’s Cup on the line. The drama, the intensity, the anguish, the agony, the wars of words, the physical battles, the camera shots of packed city streets, the unqualified hyperanalysis of Tuukka Rask’s psyche, the talk radio, the triple OTs, the TWEETS! It all would have been magnificently overwhelming. We’d all have two solid weeks of headaches. And it would be DELIGHTFUL.

A Canadiens fan holds an inflatable Stanley Cup as people clear the area after police dispersed the crowd gathered after the Habs won Game 6 to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. (Photo by Andrej Ivanov/AFP via Getty Images)

Alas, the Bruins weren’t good enough to even come close to making it a reality. When they held a 2-1 lead over the Islanders, owning an impressive 7-2 record in the postseason to that point, we perhaps overrated them a bit. But then the loss of Brandon Carlo exposed how thin their defensive corps really was. The Taylor Hall resurgence fizzled out. The goaltender, playing with a torn labrum, was wearing out as the playoffs went on. The bottom two lines were borderline nonexistent. A coaching mismatch became apparent.

The Bruins, quite simply, weren’t as good as the Islanders. And so they lost.

And so, we all lost.

Whether the Canadiens get the Islanders or Lightning in the Cup Final matters a whole lot up in Montreal. Boston is the farthest thing from their minds. But down here? We’re left to lament what could have been and — if there are any hockey gods — what should have been.

Oui, eh bien, quelle honte. Hélas!

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You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.