May 29, 2014; New York, NY, USA; The Montreal Canadiens react after loosing to the New York Rangers 1-0 in game six of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Habs Missed Opportunity: Title Hopes Take a Dive


Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

When the final horn sounded Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, one couldn’t shake the sense that the Habs missed a big opportunity and let a chance at the Finals slip through their finger tips over these past ten days….an opportunity that doesn’t figure to come around too often in the near future for Montreal.

A little extreme?  Maybe.  But there’s no denying the breaks Montreal caught during its playoff run this year.

  • Round one: the third-place Canadiens had the good fortune of running into a Ben Bishop-less Tampa Bay Lightning.  All Bishop did this regular season was finish among the league leaders in most statistical categories and be named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.  Unfortunately for the Lightning the goalie suffered a season-ending injury and they were forced to turn to the backups.  Tampa Bay’s duo of Anders Lindback and Kristers Gudlevskis finished with a sub-.900 save percentage and a goals against average well above 3.  Any one think a healthy Bishop could have done a little better than that?  Who knows if Tampa would have won, but no doubt the series goes longer than four games.
  • Round two: a well-rested Canadien squad drew its long-time rival Boston Bruins.  While the Bruins were considered favorites, the older legs, especially of Zdeno Chara, started to tire.  The Canadiens were able to pester the Bruins enough to get them off their game to upset them in game 7.  It also helped that the Bruins hit about seven posts in the series and goaltender Carey Price played terrific throughout.
  • Round three: thanks to the Rangers upsetting the Penguins, Montreal was gift-wrapped home-ice advantage and facing a goalie that they had dominated at the Bell Centre.  So what happened? The Canadiens dropped the first two at home and could never get even-up in the series.

So even with a number of breaks, the Canadiens couldn’t take full advantage and now have to wonder if they’ll be able to get back there again soon.

(Yes, I know what Canadiens’ fans are saying: “but we lost our goalie too.”  True, and it appeared to be a huge blow.  But after watching that series, can anyone honestly say the Canadiens lost because of goaltending?  In fact there were too many times during the series that rookie goalie Dustin Tokarski was the only reason why Montreal was even in games against the Rangers.  The best example was during game 6 where Montreal played with the intensity of a pre-season game and Tokarski gave his team a chance to steal another game.  Unfortunately for Tokarski the one goal he let up was too much for his teammates to overcome.)

So why will they struggle to be back in this position again?  Well, the roster on the ice these playoffs will look very different come October.  They currently have 11 players that are set to be restricted or unrestricted free agents this summer.  No doubt they’ll pony up the cash to retain dynamite defenseman PK Subban, but who else after that?

Tough decisions are coming on veteran defensemen Andrei Markov and Mike Weaver as well as captain Brian Gionta.  All three were key contributors but are in the later stages of their careers and Montreal may be looking to move on from them.  While the Canadiens appear to be in decent cap shape should they choose to sign all three, they also need to keep in mind that forwards Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk will be due for raises soon and it’d come as no surprise to see all three veterans shown the door.  Will their replacements, whether kids from the farm or outside the organization, be able to replace the production leaving the team?  It’ll be a tough task for sure.  (I guess the Canadiens could try to re-sign Thomas Vanek, but all signs point to him bolting as soon as possible to Minnesota, despite his rough playoff performance.)

The Habs will also have to contend in the Atlantic with an up-and-coming Lightning team, perennial powerhouse Bruins, the Detroit Red Wing machine, and teams like the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs that both were in the playoffs last year.  They will have to find ways to improve and stay competetive in its division knowing that one bad move, one bad injury, is all that stands between a playoff spot and sitting on the couch come April.  All those teams figure to be in the mix again next year in the Atlantic.

Another issue that will hold back the Canadiens, and probably the most important, is the question marks on the blue line.  Assuming they re-sign Subban (and they’d be crazy not to), it still leaves the team with holes on the blue line.  Josh Gorges and Alexi Emelin are solid, but struggled with the speed of the Rangers (to be fair, Emelin was hurt game six).  The youngsters who did see time on the blue line were often overwhelmed by the Ranger forwards and left Tokarski to fend for himself too frequently.   With teams placing a greater emphasis on puck possession and speed, Montreal simply doesn’t have the talent on the blue line for sustained success (just imagine if they had a guy back there like Ryan McDonagh to pair with Subban?  Boy, those guys are hard to find though.)

The Canadien players all said the right thing after the game: they were proud of their team and promised better days were ahead.  It’s what their fans wanted to hear, but no question the players know they wasted a golden opportunity, one they may not be in a position to see for some time.

 

Tags: Carey Price Dustin Tokarski Featured Montreal Canadiens PK Subban Popular

  • LES HABS

    mike the more I read your writing the more I understand you know nothing about the canadiens, Emelin got hurt in game four and missed the final two games,second to compare tokarski to price ,your just a pure dummy,the kid played well but price was the best goalie in the world,PERIOD!! Go watch the goal the kid gave up just in game four and your gonna tell me price would of let stlouis score that overtime goal from that angle,rangers played a good game six was won by the team not lundquist ,And as far as your prediction ,the canadiens are built for the long haul with great young talent and the best goalie in the game price.You can bet your ass they will be right in the thick of it again

  • Dov Ivry

    Ranger fan here. That was a great series but one of the things Therrien kept saying “we beat the best team in the league” in the Bruins was true generally, but not in the second half. The Rangers got off to a horrendous start under a new coach but their record in the last 46 games was 29-13-4. That’s a pace for 118 points, one more than Boston. They got to 109 points two years ago when they lead the east in the regular season and ran out of gas in the eastern finals. This is a better team.

  • MH

    I wasn’t comparing Price and Tokarski. But you’re buts if you think they lost this series bc of goaltending. The kid stole game 3 and when the rest of your team rolled over and died in game 6, Tokarski kept them in the game. It’s not his fault the Rangers had the puck 90% of the game.

  • MH

    Oh, and Price isn’t the best goalie. At least not on this planet. Although the best goalie in the world played in that series. Unfortunately for the Habs he wore #30 for the rangers