Sports are unfair.
If ever there was a period of time where how unfair sports are is obvious, it was the first period last night against the Ottawa Senators. The Habs beat Craig Anderson 4 times in the period, dominated puck possession, played unbelievably well and generated chance after chance. They ended the period down 2-1.
Unfortunately for the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa isn't a terrible team, and they regrouped during the first intermission. The rest of the game was far more even, and Ottawa's puck luck never stopped.
It's an odd feeling, seeing the best Habs team I've had the pleasure of watching as an adult go out in 5 games. I thought I would be angrier. I was much angrier when Eric Gryba took out Lars Eller's head. I was much angrier when the Canadiens lost their composure and made asses of themselves in Game 3, and I was much, much angrier when the referees stole the game from Montreal in Game 4.
Getting beaten by puck luck really sucks, but it beats getting games stolen by people who shouldn't be deciding games. It's far easier to accept that these kinds of things happen in sports. The Canadiens did this same thing to the vaunted Washington Capitals in 2010, although Ottawa is leaps and bounds better than that Habs team.
There are going to be lots of words bandied about when this series gets recapped. Already I can tell which one will be most common: Opportunistic. Opportunistic is the nice way of saying that the Senators lucked out.
Unlike the other day when I was talking about Brian Gionta's bicep tear, I don't necessarily mean the colloquial term for luck, but variance in performance over a short sample. Anderson was brilliant in the series. Carey Price most certainly wasn't, although he deserved two wins before he went down with injury.
But even with Anderson playing the best he's ever played, and Price playing the worst, I highly doubt the difference between them is so vast. Bounces went one way in the series, and that's an undeniable thing.
Montreal finished a 5 game series loss with the second best possession of any club in the playoffs while the score was close. But in a short series, this doesn't guarantee a thing.
The more you learn about hockey, the more you realize that nothing is guaranteed. The role that Marc Bergevin has in Montreal is not to win the Stanley Cup one year. This, I think, is something that a lot of general managers don't understand.
Every year a team makes the playoffs is a crapshoot. The injury bug could strike and you could be out 3 of your best 6 forwards in one game, like it did to Montreal. You could run into a hot goalie like Anderson, or your goaltending could fail you, even if it's good goaltending most of the time. Anderson and Price have the exact same career save percentages, one got hot and one got cold.
A general manager's job is to create a scenario where his team has the longest possible window to compete for a Stanley Cup as can be managed. If that is done, one year you may get the goaltending the same year you don't get the injuries, and you may win the cup.
Or, you may be perhaps the best team in the league over a 6 year period and never even make the finals due to a cacophony of bad luck (hello San Jose). But all you can do is give yourself that chance, as many times as possible.
I think Bergevin is doing this. To be sure, there's a window right now that basically closes next year. Brian Gionta is aging, as is Andrei Markov. In the summer of 2014, one or neither of them could be re-upped, and there may be a slight lag for the Canadiens' cup hopes. But the Canadiens have a wealth of prospects that may fill those holes, or be used to fill them in trades. I don't know how Bergevin will work that, but his core players are so exceedingly strong, that he has a lot of leeway.
Speaking of core players, one of the most interesting stories to me in this postseason was how one player may have played himself into the longterm plans of the team, and one player played himself out.
Positive first: Rene Bourque was one of the best players the Canadiens had in the playoffs. Ignoring the fact that Bourque may be French for elbows of course. Bourque was hard on the puck, solid defensively, a possession beast, and he gave Erik Karlsson all he could handle while barreling down the ice. He also scored one of the nicest backhand shelf goals I've ever seen.
When Pierre Gauthier traded for Rene Bourque, hyped up on the emotion of losing a winnable game to Boston, and losing a personal favourite player, I said the trade would be worse than the Ribeiro trade. I'll happily eat crow on that one. Bourque was terrible the year he was acquired, but it seems like the torn muscle in his abdomen is more to blame than anything. He's proven he's a gamer to me. Is he a first liner? Probably not, but he has what it takes to be effective.
Now for the negative: David Desharnais has a 4 year contract extension that begins next year. Ever since he signed that extension, he's been off. I don't know if it's being too comfortable, and certainly part of it is puck luck, but he was completely and utterly useless in the playoffs. Without a healthy Max Pacioretty to carry him along, he just looks lost. For the last two games of the series, he looked like the 4th best center on the team behind Tomas Plekanec, Alex Galchenyuk, and Jeff Halpern, and that's with Lars Eller out.
I really don't know what the Habs can do with Desharnais. They seem unwilling to drop him below Eller on the depth chart in spite of all evidence pointing to Eller being better, and the extension tells me that they feel he's part of the answer. I don't think he is. He's a nice story, but it's to the point now where he would be a nicer story elsewhere.
What can be said about Pernell Karl in this series? It's come to the point with Subban now where you watch him control the play defensively, offensively, physically, in the neutral zone, on special teams, and I really don't believe than unbiased eyes can see him play, and say that there is another defenseman in the league that is definitively better.
He may not be definitively the best in the league, but he's in every conversation.
I watch Subban play, I see opposing teams key their entire game plan around what he's doing, and I wonder if there's much he can't do.
I haven't gone too in depth here, as that's for the season post mortem and the upcoming season review, but the future for the Canadiens is so bright, you need polarized lenses.