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It stings.

Right now, immediately after the game’s conclusion, one is overcome by feelings of disappointment, thoughts of what might have been, but most of all it is the ending that lingers.

A season that ended prematurely, much too soon, at the hands of a team that the Canadiens defeated four times this season, was not part of the plan. And maybe that’s thing, did we expect too much out of the Canadiens? Was the first place finish a mirage? Did the playoffs expose the Canadiens?

Over the next few days a tremendous amount will be written about the Habs, and even more will be said about what went wrong. Many on the team will be criticized, and in some cases vilified, as the blame for the Canadiens demise is spread around.

That’s the dark side of expectation. For a Canadiens team that exceeded the expectations of everyone, it is now time to face the wrath of those who collectively put their hope in the team this spring.

So when did you start to believe in this team?

Was it the historic comeback against the Rangers? Or was it the surprising success against the Devils? Was it when Price emerged as the starter? Or was it when Alex Kovalev consistently played at a level up to his potential? Was it when clinched a playoff spot? Or was it when the team clinched first place in the conference?

Expectation is a funny thing. At the beginning of the season, few expressed any hopes of the Habs fielding a successful squad this year, and no one predicted a first place finish. But when the Habs proceeded to confound the experts the whispers began. It was a sound that hadn’t been uttered in a long time, it started out as a simmer, and then as winter clung tenaciously it became a belief. A hope that the dream could be on the horizon. A belief that the Stanley Cup was within reach.

Tonight, that dream, that hope, came to an end.

Game five was in a sense a microcosm of the entire series. Once again the Habs took the play to the Flyers but this series came down to one simple reality. The Canadiens seemed unable to take advantage of a majority of their chances, while the Flyers seemed to take advantage of each and every scoring chance.

But for me signs of the Canadiens eventual demise began in the first round against the Bruins. In that series the Bruins elevated their game for the playoffs, and pushed the Habs to seven games. For much of the series the Habs failed to do the same. It was only in the seventh game where the Habs truly brought their “A” game and finished off a Bruins team that gave them more trouble than it should have.

In many ways, the second round series against the Flyers was a similar story. However, there were two differences in this series as opposed to the Bruins one. Not only did the Flyers bring more offense than the Bruins, with R.J. Umberger enjoying the greatest week of his professional life, but Flyers goaltender Martin Biron clearly was the series’ most important player, playing at a level, many didn’t think was possible for him.

However, more than all of those reasons, one got the sense that the Habs for the most part were unwilling to get their hands dirty. With the exception of tonight’s game the Habs failed to pay the price. This was reflected in the fact that the Habs despite being the better skating team, the team that had more shots, won more face offs, and had more scoring chances, ultimately lost to a team that consistently and continually beat them when it came down to one on one battles.

Maybe this can be attributed to the Habs lack of playoff experience. The realization by many on the team that the playoffs are a different beast than the regular season, a time where the checking gets a little tighter, the hits get a little harder, and the awareness that this endurance test also known as the Stanley Cup playoffs is not a journey for the timid or the weak.

And now the second guessing will begin as the media and the fans begin to deliver their postmortem on the Habs season. Over the next few days it will be mostly loud and probably negative. However, as many rush to point the blame for the Habs season there will be one word, one sentiment that will rarely be uttered,

That word is perspective.

It’s tough when the pain of a season’s end is fresh to put a whole year in perspective. Many can’t look past the last game. At this moment, it’s hard to take a look at the season in whole.

This was a season, in which the Canadiens, a team predicted by many to miss the playoffs, confounded the hockey world, by not only making the playoffs, but by finishing first in the Eastern Conference.

This was a season in which Alex Kovalev played at an MVP level, where Saku Koivu proved to the remaining naysayers that he indeed has the heart of a champion.

This was a season where many of the team’s young stars took their game to the next level. A season that saw Tomas Plekanec become a first line center, Andrei Kostitsyn a legitimate scoring threat, and Mike Komisarek a physical force. A season that showcased Mark Streit’s versatility, Tom Kostopoulous’ toughness, and Andrei Markov’s steadiness.

Without a doubt, the two most talked about figures over the next few days will be Carey Price and Guy Carbonneau.

Carbonneau will be criticized because he is the coach and for many the buck stops with him. Being the head coach in Montreal, means that you are continually second guessed by millions of people who know that they can do the job better than you. Undoubtedly, many will point the finger at Carbonneau for the team’s demise, without giving him any credit for the Habs success this year.

There will probably be more conclusions reached about Price, a twenty year old kid thrown into arguably, the most pressure packed position in hockey. People will argue that it was his play that decided this series, and jump to conclusions. And while Price admittedly wasn’t at his best against the Flyers, the one word that you won’t hear from those who are critical of Price is the word patience.

And therein lies the one thing that won’t be echoed by many of those who condemn the Canadiens over the next few days. Only after the negativity dies down, and people start to look back at this season within a larger context will there be a sense that this year represented a beginning. That the future course of the team has been set in the right direction, that there are better days ahead that this was a season to remember, a foundation for the future.

A season where the Canadiens potential began to blossom, where we got our first glimpse of the future, a future that regardless of tonight’s result looks brighter than ever.