The Montreal Canadiens’ Game 6 elimination in the Eastern Conference Final completed a postseason filled with incredible success and weird symmetry.
First, the happy times: Sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning and then dispatching their arch rivals the Boston Bruins in a way that left Milan Lucic acting like a petulant child, this time on the handshake line. It’s impossible not to term this season a success for the Canadiens, even if they fell short of their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since winning in 1993.
But how strange to eliminate a team with an injured starting goalie, and then get eliminated partially because yours was injured? To have special teams that make all the positive difference in previous rounds, and then become an anchor in the final round?
What went wrong for the Habs in the East Final? Here are five factors …
1. Game 1 Was A Disaster
“Yeah, we were not ready mentally. Physically we were not ready to compete for a game like that and with the result that we saw,” said Coach Michel Therrien after the Rangers’ 7-2 whoppin’ of the Habs in Game 1.
Montreal was still coming down from its “we eliminated the Bruins!” high. They gave the Rangers the puck. They gave the Rangers seven power plays. They gave away home ice advantage.
And the Rangers took the victory … and their goalie.
2. Losing Carey Price
Look, Dustin Tokarski was spectacular at times with Price out of the lineup after Game 2. He also looked completely like the rookie he was in other cases: Was he leaving to buy popcorn on that Chris Kreider goal in Game 5?
He’s neither the reason the Habs lost nor the Rangers won the series, but losing Carey Price to injury after Game 1 had one clear effect on the Canadiens and it was to their offense. The were more attentive in their own to protecting Tokarski, sweeping away rebounds and supporting him in ways they don’t necessarily have to with Price. Take out that crazy-pants Game 5, and their offensive with Tokarski in net was 1.75 goals per game vs. 3.18 in the previous two rounds.
3. Losing The Special Teams Battle
The Canadiens entered the Eastern Conference Final with a sick 10-for-38 mark on the power play, clicking at over 26 percent. The Rangers, meanwhile, were a dismal 6-for-55 for the postseason.
So, naturally, the Rangers scored three power-play goals in Game 1 and the Canadians went 0-for-9 in the first three games of the series, two of them losses. Because hockey, you know?
Overall, the Habs were a pathetic 2-for-23 on the power play, a figure only bolstered by them limiting the Rangers to a single power play goal (1-for-16) in the last four games of the series. But even then, New York seemed energized by its special teams while Montreal seemed frustrated by theirs.
4. Scoring The First Goal
Simple concept, really, but the Canadiens were 8-1 when scoring first, including getting that early tally from Alex Galchenyuk in Game 5. Meanwhile the Rangers scored the first goal in 13 of their 20 playoff games and won 10 of them.
This also speaks to the fact that before Game 5, Montreal played with the lead during the series for about the length of a commercial break. Which is as exhausting as it sounds.
5. Rangers ‘D’ Outdoes ‘O’ Canadiens
This is the part where we’re supposed to slam Max Pacioretty for only getting two goals in six games, or Lars Eller for getting one in six games, or Thomas Vanek for failing to get anything but copious amounts of grief in six games. (Seriously, when do we learn about the injury that limited him to seven shots on goal in this series?)
But honestly: How good was Henrik Lundqvist outside of his Game 5 brainfart? How good were Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal? How good are the Rangers forwards that seem to be able to make a play in their own zone and then teleport to the other side of the ice for an offensive chance? (Looking at you, Carl Hagelin.)
This was also reflected in the possession numbers for the series, with the Rangers hold the corsi advantage in four of the six games and especially in Game 6.
The Canadiens can take pride in the fact that they beat the best (Boston, allegedly) and then were beaten by the best (the Rangers, from midway through the Penguins series to the not-touching-the-trophy presentation). It was a run to remember.