There were arguably five keys to winning this series from Montreal’s perspective:
- Contain Erik Karlsson
- Insulate Carey Price
- Roll Three Lines
When all is said and done, Erik Karlsson scored one goal and five assists to co-lead Ottawa in scoring.
You be the judge of what’s worse: that Montreal couldn’t contain Karlsson, who was just coming back from a torn Achilles tendon, that Montreal couldn’t contain a 40-year-old Daniel Alfredsson, who also had six points or that Montreal couldn’t contain the offensive powerhouse that is Marc Methot, who had five.
In terms of discipline, Montreal was shorthanded a league-leading 25 times in five games and also started one of the most embarrassing line brawls in team history in Game 3 when down 4-1 to try and save face.
Not only did the Habs lose badly that night (final score of 6-1), but they also got outclassed and just beaten pure and simple when the gloves came off. In fact, it was a rather fitting outcome, as, during the series, the Habs got beat every other which way.
Perhaps the brawl was indicative of a bigger problem: Montreal’s frustration, whether it was a result of Anderson’s excellent goaltending or just their own inability to play consistently.
They lost patience as a result of being down so often and mistakenly forced the play. The Habs might have dominated in the offensive zone, but the result was lackluster defensive coverage that, especially in Game 5, led to ill-timed odd-man rushes for Ottawa and momentum-sapping goals.
Granted, Budaj and Price could have been better, but the Habs were just awful in front of them as well. Make no mistake, this loss was a team effort.
Ottawa no doubt contributed to it, and not just through timely goals, as their size and physical domination led to five different Habs forwards being injured at one time or another: Eller, Max Pacioretty, Brian Gionta, Ryan White and Brandon Prust.
With so many out of the lineup (including Price and defenseman Alexei Emelin), the Habs just couldn’t roll three lines as they did during the regular season or even adapt to Ottawa’s playoff-style hockey, which the Senators had perfected since February when they suffered through all their injuries.
Put simply, Ottawa coped, Montreal crumbled.
There is, of course, hope for the Habs’ future. They showed immense heart and great gameplay throughout the season, and there are pieces in place that should guarantee a competitive team for years to come. However, they just weren’t able to compete this postseason.
That the series likely would have turned out differently had Montreal held on in Game 4 is a testament to the Habs’ high quality of play all year long, but irrelevant all at the same time. The series really wasn’t all that close, definitely not as close as a Game 4 victory might have made it seem.
Bottom line: The Habs were the heavy favorites on paper, but the better team in practice won.