The Boston Bruins defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-3 in overtime last night, ending another epic chapter between these original-six rivals.
And after all the fighting, all the trash talk, the ugly hits and incidents and 13 head-to-head games, the entire thing was decided by one measly goal.
It's all over now, but what an amazing ride it's been to watch these gutsy Canadiens do their thing over 89 games, watching them achieve success despite seemingly insurmountable odds.
Last night was, in a lot of ways, a microcosm of the Habs' season as Les Glorieux had the odds stacked against them early but didn't give up. Montreal spotted Boston a 2-0 lead less than six minutes in before twice tying the game and forcing overtime, eventually succumbing to their foe.
The Habs looked like they would go down for the count early in the game, until Jacques Martin called a timeout to rally his troops. It worked, and Montreal battled back to tie it at two before Boston re-took the lead at 9:44 of the third.
Partrice Bergeron took a costly late-game penalty, leading the way for a P.K. Subban blast from the point to tie the game at three. Then at 5:43 of overtime and with the Habs dominating play, Boston got the only break they'd need. Nathan Horton took his lone shot of the game and it deflected off Jeff Halpern and past Carey Price for the win.
And with that, the Montreal Canadiens' 2011 season came to an end.
Things are not all bad
As Boston now moves on to face the Philadelphia Flyers, the Habs travel back to Montreal to clear out their locker room. There will be lots of time to deconstruct the season that was and muse over who will—or won't—be back in a Habs' uniform next year.
But for now, the players will surely be stuck thinking about what could have been.
With Montreal dropping three of their four losses to Boston in overtime, this really was a series that could have gone either way. And the players know it. That's the part that will sting them and their fans for a while.
So while the players and their fans were talking positively after the loss and this morning, they are all still feeling the sudden-death effects of yesterday's loss.
The city of Montreal is blanketed in a veil of sadness and melancholy this morning. But through the disappointment, there is a bright ray of hope that is shining through.
Against all odds
The Habs are a team that suffered through seemingly devastating losses of their top two defensemen—Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges—while also losing their lone power-forward—Max Pacioretty—when he was just coming into his own.
That they were still able to battle all season, finish in sixth overall in the East and come a mere seven points shy of their division title, speaks to mental and testicular fortitude.
Moreover, it speaks to a depth of character not seen in these parts for some time.
Oh sure, the Habs have had character players, like Saku Koivu, over the last 15 years or so, but never so many at the same time.
Right now, this looks like a team who's defining characteristics, aside from speed, are character, heart, resilience and an irreproachable work-ethic.
So what went wrong?
Let's face it folks, as enjoyable as it was to watch the Habs this year we were not watching a contending team.
When your post-season strategy is just to get in, cross your fingers and hope for the best, you are not a contender. But perhaps, with a few tweaks, becoming a true contender—a la Detroit—will happen in the not so distant future.
If we take this brilliantly entertaining series against the Bruins at face value, Montreal pushed the heavily favoured Bs to a seventh game and came within a goal of winning. That looks nice on the surface but we have to put things in context here.
The Bruins won the series despite not scoring one single power play goal—they went 0-for-21 over seven games. In addition, their No.1 line of David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic were invisible while their tower of strength on the back end—Zdeno Chara—looked mortal at best.
The bottom line is that this was far from the best the Bruins could bring to the table and still the Canadiens lost.
However Montreal is a team in building mode and, as such, the experience gained by players like Subban, Yannick Weber, Lars Eller, David Desharnais and others, will go a long way to making the collective that much better next season.
Would having Markov, Gorges and Pacioretty in the lineup have made the Habs a better team and even won them the series? Quite possibly it would have but, in their absence, young players got a chance to play big roles and learn on the biggest stage available.
I'm not sure we'd be talking about Subban routinely playing 27-plus minutes a game in the playoffs if Markov and Gorges were in the lineup.
We also would not likely have seen the Habs acquire a player like James Wisniewski and watch him play a key role. Whether the Habs can re-sign him or not is another question entirely, but there is no doubting his importance to the team since being acquired.
The winds of change are blowing
With the Habs playoff run in the books, a new season of deconstruction and reconstruction will begin.
With six UFA and three RFA defenseman, two UFA and six RFA forwards and one UFA goaltender, the Canadiens lineup is bound to change over the course of the summer.
In addition, as was rumoured and leaked a few months ago, assistant coach Kirk Muller will no longer be with the team next season.
With Geoff Molson taking over as President of the team on April 1, he will now look to instill his philosophy on the team's management while giving them enough room to do their jobs. So while I don't expect either Pierre Gauthier or Jacques Martin to be fired, they will certainly be watched closely by their new boss.
If there has been one major flaw with the Canadiens this season—and for the past decade for that matter—it's that they are too small. Their small players have a ton of heart, however, and that makes up for a lot of what they are missing in pounds and inches. That being said, an added dose of size in their top-six would go a long way to making them a more balanced team.
In addition, Montreal lack's true offensive punch and struggle to score goals as a result. At the end of the day, it was their lack of 5-on-5 scoring ability that lost them the series against Boston.
So the priority for Montreal has to be to get bigger and more offensive.
With players like Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot failing to get it done in the top-six, I wouldn't be surprised if they are both given their walking papers in the off-season.
But the team has to effectively fill any holes left by their departures.
Scott Gomez too, who had the worst statistical season of his career and was mostly a ghost in the playoffs, continues to be an albatross for Montreal. GM Gauthier must and likely will look at all options for ridding himself of the underachieving center, but with a $7.35 million cap hit for three more years I wouldn't hold my breath.
The biggest changes, however, will come on the back end where Montreal has six free agent defensemen, including Markov and Gorges. Whatever Gauthier decides to do with those two players will have a trickle-down effect on the rest of his roster.
At the end of the day, if the Canadiens can get faster on the back end and bigger and more skilled up front, this could become a very dangerous team as soon as next season.
Right now, however, we don't know what will happen to the lineup and, in a lot of ways, it's irrelevant. What is important is that the 2010-2011 Montreal Canadiens gave their fans one hell of a season.
We laughed, we cried, we shared more than a few beers over them and they entertained and enthralled us for the better part of a year.
Ultimately, this year's Montreal Canadiens held the torch and the pride of a city high and for that, we thank them.
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 to 9 a.m. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/