After a long season spanning 8 months of elation and devastation, the Montreal Canadiens have ended their playoff run in game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Yet as sad or angry or frustrated as the fans may feel, there is much cause for celebration.
However, first things first. After winning games 1 and 2 with scores of 6-1 and 6-5, Montreal failed to score another 6 goals for the rest of the series. Following the loss of Captain Saku Koivu to a controversial eye injury in Game 3, Montreal watched as Carolina won four straight to take the series.
Originally given only 5 games to make a case for themselves by many ‘expert analysts’, Montreal looked set to sweep Carolina following a scoring outburst in game 2. But reminiscient of the 2002 series against the same foe, Montreal allowed the backup goalie to steal the series.
Compare the aged Arturs Irbe to the rookie Cam Ward. While at opposite ends of the age spectrum, both were turned into walls by the Montreal Canadiens, appearing much better than their regular season stats showed. In a sense, Montreal turned Cam Ward from emerging rookie goaltender to star prodigy by failing to score on the multitude of opportunities they were provided.
Many claim Koivu’s injury as the turning point, others point out Ward’s start in game 3. The important thing to note is that both can be correct. We lost leadership when we lost our captain, not to mention the impact Steve Begin provides (physically and inspirationally). The best players in the series were our youngsters (Plekanec, Higgins, et al), while the elder ‘statesmen’ left something to be desired in the leadership department after Koivu’s injury (Bonk, Rivet, Kovalev, Souray). None stood up to fill the void of ‘Captain K’, and the minimal offensive output was an indication.
So what does this mean?
Firstly, Montreal gets to play golf. This game, originally created as men’s excuse to avoid household chores (Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden) is also a pastime of many NHLers. Mike Modano, known for one of the top drives in the non-PGA circles, will have only just begun practices, and sure could use some tee-buddies.
But more importantly, it’s the beginning. The beginning of the end. The Official End of the Old Canadiens. The changing of the guard.
– The roles filled by Higgins, Perezhogin, Plekanec, Komisarek (and to a lesser extent Downey and Murray) are a good sign that Montreal’s young crop are finally ready to take over, and are being given the chance. With what some may call “failed experiments” like Bulis, Ribeiro and Zednik, it’s important to know that their spots could be filled adequately should the need arise.
– Also important to notice are other prospects looking to join the team. Kyle Chipchura, Guillaume Latendresse, Andrei Kostitsyn could all make a great case come September. An incident involving Alexei Emelin has Habs fans recalling the Perezhogin instance in ’04-05, and possible judgement could find him making his way over to North America sooner than expected. And Yann Danis showed, with a shutout in his first game, that he is ready to start making a name for himself in the ‘new’ NHL.
– With UFA candidates like Streit, Bulis and Sundstrom, and RFAs like Dagenais, Ribeiro and Huet/Aebischer, Bob Gainey has got some big decisions to make. More pressing are the contracts of the latter two names, as well as RFAs Perezhogin, Komisarek, Bouillion and Ryder, all of whom may seek significant rises in their pay packet. And, of course, the plethora of talent available on the UFA market.
– Many have highlighted Gainey’s failure to acquire a big-name forward at the deadline as an excuse for Montreal bowing out so quickly and with such a meager offense. Others have sprung to Gainey’s defense, highlighting the money saved, and the potential stars who will, come July 1, throw on a new jersey. Whatever your belief, the facts present themselves simply.
* Montreal did not acquire a forward at the deadline.
* Following Koivu’s injury, only 5 goals were scored in 4 games.
Perhaps Gainey knew this, and didn’t expect us to go far. The glory years of the Canadiens are just on the horizon, but this is not supposed to be one of them.
Or perhaps Gainey had faith in our offense and goalies, and perhaps in the defense too.
Either way, Gainey is more aware of the facts than any of you armchair GMs. 14 teams didn’t make the playoffs, and 5 teams exited the playoffs before us. Obviously, something went right.
Much more in depth information and speculation will be posted over the coming months, and it will be entertaining to read these opinions.
So, in the immortal words of the philosopher Julie Andrews (who spoke the memorable title of this article),
“I have confidence!”
And you should too.