There’s an old saying that “To the victor belongs the spoils”. It appears to be an appropriate statement to sum up the Carolina vs Montreal series. Last night, the Habs put up a solid effort, with a high enough measure of desperation, but lost 2-1 in overtime, to drop their first round playoff series in 6 games. After the previous game, the Habs GM Bob Gainey spoke of leadership, and for a need for his players to step up for game 6. It was hoped that a surprise visit by injured captain Saku Koivu before the start of the game would provide some inspiration to his teammates. The Habs had lost the last 3 games, each by a one goal margin, after winning the first two games of the series.
The Habs first goal was scored at 6:31 of the first period, on the power play; Sheldon Souray made a beautiful blueline blast that overpowered the Carolina goaltender. The Hurricanes responded exactly 30 seconds later with an even handed goal by former Habs star Mark Recchi. That tying goal took the wind out of the sails of the fans’ enthusiasm. The fans and both teams were lulled for most of the rest of the period. Both starting goalies, Cam Ward & Cristobal Huet, were outstanding for the entire game, providing several scintalating saves to keep their teams alive. The overtime goal was an unfortunate one, as Craig Rivet, while trying to block a blueline slapshot by Cane’s forward Corey Stillman, accidentally managed to tip the puck, providing a fluttering projectile that Huet was unable to follow nor stop.
The Canadiens who were against the Las Vegas oddsmakers to start the playoffs, provided an overall good effort to perform as well as they did. Each of their 4 losses were by one goal. Despite winning the first two games on the road, they eventually lost all three of their own home matches, an event that has rarely occurred throughout Montreal’s playoff history. Several factors worked against the Habs during this series. The loss of Koivu in game three was the most significant, as the rest of the Habs centres were not able to pick up the slack in his absence. Other undisclosed injuries, such as a Alexei Kovalev’s knee, as well as players returning earlier than expected from injuries [Francis Bouillon & Steve Begin] could be used as a crutch for the playoff loss. However, the fact that many Habs forwards were not able to score as they were expected to do. Kovalev performed well, despite Koivu’s absence, leading the team with 4 goals and 7 points. Michael Ryder, tied for 2nd in the Habs scoring with 5, was somewhat disappointing, leading the team with a -4 rating. Mike Ribeiro was downright terrible, with only 2 assists in 6 games, including several golden scoring opportunites in tight that were simply blown. A previous Habs leader in the playoffs, RIchard Zednik scored only twice, and did not show the presence he had previously recent playoff seasons. Chris Higgins, who was red hot to finish the season, cooled off significantly despite managing 1 goal and 4 points.
The future for the Habs for next season still looks bright. They will have some difficult decisions to make regarding their own free agents, as well as other unrestricted free agents. With interim coach Guy Carbonneau taking over the head coaching reigns from Gainey, the club is well positioned from the management side to bring this team back to the playoffs next season.