As you most definitely know by now, the Canadiens lost their final playoff game, at home, to the Ottawa Senators. Beat in every facet of the game, it’s almost ironic that the Ottawa Senators would be playing a team that’s suddenly faced the injury problems they’ve dealt with all year. I have to admit, I’m still seething about the Game 4 loss, but in the end, it doesn’t matter.
There’s a lot to be happy about with this team. After finishing in 15th place last year for the first time in franchise history, expectations were not high for this squad. Under the first year of Marc Bergevin’s tenure at the helm of one of the most storied franchises in sporting history, he instilled something that was missing all these years: heart. The Canadiens might not have been the biggest, most elite or most talented squad on the ice this year, but they showed that they had the will to compete with any team on any given night. They won more than they lost and won the division lead, which makes a first round exit ever more painful. They would have an intense forecheck and rarely gave up on a game.
There were so many success stories this season, from the excellent play of Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher to the surge of P.K Subban as a Norris Trophy candidate. Carey Price was elite for about 40 of the games this year, and the impact of heart-and-soul guys like Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong can’t be underestimated. The Canadiens saw good production from Rene Bourque, Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec, while the physical play of Alexei Emelin proved to be the perfect partner to Andrei Markov. You almost couldn’t blame Canadiens fans for thinking this series against Ottawa was more desirable than a physical affair against the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team that had their number all season.
Alas, that’s why they play the games – the Ottawa Senators are a good team, well-coached and with excellent depth. They play a defensive style and rely on often otherwordly goaltending from Craig Anderson. They’ve overcome a lot this season and they played a much better series than the Canadiens. From Game 1, the devastating injury to Lars Eller and Max Pacioretty‘s now-public suffering of a shoulder separation (which he repeatedly tried to play through, a testament to his character), the Senators served notice that they couldn’t be taken lightly. From there, it seemed to totally fall apart for the Canadiens – from terrible special teams to being unable to maintain forecheck to having simply average goaltending. The injuries to core players, like Brandon Prust, Brian Gionta, Rene Bourque and last but not least Carey Price in Game 4, would prove to be some of the undoing of this team. They simply were outplayed, outchanced, and outmuscled in every facet of the game, and the best team won in the end. Ottawa outscored the Canadiens 20-9, and received extremely great goaltending – this wasn’t a fluke win by any stretch of the imagination. The Canadiens couldn’t deal with a sudden bout of adversity and fell in only 5 games. In many ways, the Canadiens never recovered from that slump that plagued them at the end of the season.Ottawa deserves to move on, and as painful as it is, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel.
This is a young team that’s learning to come into it’s own. While some will point to the massive injuries sustained in this series, I think a lot of the blame can be distributed to the veterans in here – key vets didn’t produce. I’m looking at David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty (even he’s not allowing his injury as an excuse), Michael Ryder, Andrei Markov and Carey Price as key players in this series who performed well-below expectations. On the bright side, the youth of this team shone through – players like Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk were fantastic, Jarred Tinordi was steady on D (if a bit over-matched at times). And honestly, my 1st star of this series goes to P.K Subban. No matter how many times the HNIC panelists will assert that he’s trouble in the dressing room (despite all the evidence to the contrary), he was an elite D-man in this series and he will be a key cog of the Canadiens future. He carried the play offensively, mixed it up physically and was a rock in his own zone, despite getting little-to-no help from anyone else on the team. He will be paid handsomely in his next contract, and he proved to the Canadiens that he bleeds bleu-blanc-rouge with his heart-filled performance tonight. Speaking of P.K, if you haven’t read Jack Todd’s story on him in the Montreal Gazette, I suggest you do so – it’s a fantastic profile.
At the end of the day, despite the disappointment, I’m proud to be a Canadiens fan. They left it all on the ice and were soundly beaten by a better team. I don’t have even an inch of doubt that the team is currently in the right hands, and that the players on the ice tonight will remember the pain of elimination along with the gratitude of a fan base who can recognize the bright moments that this team brought to its city this year. In my mind, there’s many more great years to come and the Canadiens management has their work cut out for them in terms of building a winner both in the present and in the future.