We don't know whether to thank or smack Puck Buddy Killer B's for digging up our preseason picks yesterday. On the one hand, we selected all eight Eastern Conference playoff teams; and really, who knew the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche would work out as they did, what with injuries and Averys and demonic snow blowers?
Alas, our preseason prognostications also reveal that our pick for the Stanley Cup champion was, in fact, the Montreal Canadiens; a team whose spectacular flameout and crushing disappointment came to its logical conclusion last night: Getting swept by their arch rivals, on home ice as the fans taunted them, and with castoff Michael Ryder doing most of the damage.
We've seen well-hyped teams implode before, but not like this. As we said in the series preview:
The Canadiens went from a team primed for a Cup run in their centennial season to a disaster on skates that featured everything from stars being sent home to a coach getting canned to players becoming both tabloid fodder and mob associates. We don't want to say things have gotten a little surreal in Montreal; but we certainly will when Celine Dion buys the team.
The Habs are frequently compared to the New York Yankees for their legacy of success, star-studded alumni and general pretension as a franchise. If so, then this is their mid-1980s phase, and they haven't even found their micro-managing Steinbrenner yet. There are a few Don Mattinglys on the roster: Andrei Markov, for one. But the team is populated by underachievers, players in need of a scenery change and players whose mental toughness for playing in that pressure-cooker market can be legitimately questioned.
In other words: Carey Price had his Patrick Roy moment last night:
We'll have our eulogy for the Habs later today; but here's the postmortem from around the hockey world. It's like a grave dancers union out there this morning.
First off, Dave Stubbs of the Gazette looks at the fan protests during last night's game and the reactions from the Habs locker room:
Price wasn't in the dressing room to comment after the game, but he had plenty of support from his coach and a few teammates.
"I suppose he could have kept his cool and not made any gesture to the crowd," Gainey said. "But on the other hand, when you're being bullied, basically, and you don't stand up for yourself, who's going to? ...
"People were rude and unfair. He stood up for himself. What's wrong with that?"
Forward Georges Laraque suggested that "to blame Carey is very surprising. He's only 21. If you're going to point fingers, point them at injuries (of which the Canadiens had plenty this series). If you're a fan, you think you'd be supporting your team. Those weren't the fans who supported us all year and helped us make the playoffs."
The fans broadened their braying in the late stages, chanting the name of Carbonneau. That bothered Gainey, the man who fired and replaced him, less than what was being directed at the goaltender he drafted and has positioned as the club's netminder for years to come.
Although we have no idea what a "mermaid of things" means, TSN's Bob McKenzie reminds us that the Canadiens and Carey Price are pretty much stuck with each other:
Price is becoming the whole focal point of the Canadiens' failed season. The fans were on him Wednesday night and you could see his frustration in his reaction to the fans. That stuff snowballs and the players had to build up his confidence. Everybody remembers the similar Patrick Roy-type reaction in 1995 when the fans were on him.
But there were a mermaid of things wrong with the Canadiens this year: the injuries they endured throughout the season, the Kostitsyn's, Alex Kovalev at various times, but it will always come back to Carey Price and I don't know that it should. He's got a long way to go and Montreal has no veteran backup or somebody they feel confident with.
The Montreal blogs were actually quite kind to their boys. Habschick saw this playoff qualification as being something against the odds. Habs Twit offered an obit. But All Habs took a much more optimistic tone:
The Canadiens were bitterly disappointed that they couldn't mount a better attack against the Bruins but they were without Markov, Schneider, Tanguay and Lang. It's unclear how many of the players on the current roster will be back. They deserved a better sendoff.
Koivu chose to speak about Price after the game, "I said it before the season and I still believe it. I have a lot of confidence. The kid is going to win a Stanley Cup one day. Hopefully, I will be with him when that happens."
It was a special moment. Koivu, who has given everything to his team, yet been subjected to unwarranted criticism, was empathizing with his young goaltender. And he was looking towards a future where #11 and #31 would be hoisting a Cup together. It is a vision that I hope is realized.
Ah, but the rest of the blogosphere is having a bit of a laugh, when they're not drawing eerie parallels between this year's Canadiens and the 2007-08 Senators. Even with the Toronto Maple Leafs where they are in the world, Sports and the City can't help but appreciate the Habs' pain:
The fat lady has sung. It's going to one helluva interesting summer in Montreal. Gainey's done. Koivu, Kovalev, Komisarek, Tanguay, Lang, Schneider and, most importantly, Brisebois are all unrestricted free agents. And, I don't know about you, but I'd much rather have Georges Laraque, and his zero goals, signed through until 2011 at $1.5 million/season than, say, a guy like Mikhail Grabovski. (Score one for Cliff Fletcher.)
Thanks to Luke Schenn, Mickey Grabs, and another top-ten draft pick this summer, the future is bright in Toronto. The same can most certainly not be said about Montreal. And, well, that kind of puts a spring in my step.
Oh, and I almost forgot: Happy 100th birthday, les Glorieux. Au revoir ...
And of course, from the Boston Bruins blog Cornelius Hardenburgh:
Is it even warm enough to be golfing near Montreal right now?
Ouch. And so it has come to pass that the Canadiens centennial is pretty much the worst since the 100th anniversary of herpes. Some, but not all, Montreal fans remain surly and angry (NSFW language) over their team's embarrassing hell of a season.
Meanwhile, all the Bruins can do is put them out of their misery and dance on through to the second round (H/T Greg K):