The fear was that the Montreal Canadiens weren’t in control of their own playoff destiny. And indeed, it happened Friday night as the Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the New York Rangers and eliminated the Habs.
The 3-2 shootout win over the Rangers put the Canadiens as the last team eliminated from contention for the post-season. But they can still achieve 96 points with a victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday, an impressive showing for a non-playoff team.
The Canadiens exceeded expectations in a lot of ways this season and they’ve seen a lot of retooling along the way. Summer will allow more time for reflection, but Montreal has really transformed its course throughout the year. And that makes the points showing all the more inspiring.
Professional hockey players would call those excuses, however, and that’s where the disappointment settles back in. For the Habs and for all teams lacing the skates, playing for the Stanley Cup is the only thing that matters and anything less is a miserable failure.
But getting there is also a story and these Canadiens will tell plenty of tales yet.
This year stood as the re-emergence of Tomas Tatar, for instance. A leftover in the Max Pacioretty deal, Tatar headed to Montreal and posted a career-high 58 points.
Or there was Max Domi, leading the team with 71 points. The last time someone was in that neighbourhood for the Canadiens was Tomas Plekanec’s 70-point 2009-2010 season.
Or how about Jesperi Kotkaniemi? Carey Price, playing like an All-Star again? Phillip Danault? Shea Weber, leading the charge? How about Jeff Petry’s career-best 45 points?
There are stories for these Montreal Canadiens, even if the result stings. The Habs are as well-positioned as any 94-point team and that’s where it gets fun. General manager Marc Bergevin has cap space and draft picks to operate with this summer. And prospects like Alexander Romanov, Josh Brook and Nick Suzuki are in the wings.
For fans, this is a bitter pill to swallow. For a moment. But when the dust settles and the pain of the near-miss fades, the future looks bright. This season is worthwhile, if for no other reason than that it serves as a sign of great things to come.
(Photo credit: Montreal Canadiens/Twitter)