All good things must come to an end, and for the Montreal Canadiens the inevitable exit took place after a rather lackluster performance.
It was a tentative start from both teams, but the Habs quickly resumed their domination of even-strength play, which was the case throughout the majority of the series. Even though Lars Eller worked hard to set up Brandon Prust, and Brendan Gallagher put together a tremendous effort to find Tomas Plekanec, neither player could capitalize on their respective scoring chances. The Habs had to play perfect hockey if they hoped to push Tampa Bay to the brink. That meant crisp passing, lots of pressure in every zone, and efficient puck clearing. The latter came back to bite them, as a failed clearing attempt landed on the stick of Ondrej Palat, who rifled a shot towards Carey Price. The puck took a deflection off Nikita Kucherov's stick, which marked the beginning of the end for the Habs.
It was all Lightning from there on in, a fact that Steven Stamkos punctuated early in the second period, with a laser of a shot. Palat would score a powerplay goal later in the frame, and Tampa Bay never looked back. Max Pacioretty managed to break Ben Bishop's shutout bid, however the Habs definitely bowed out of the playoffs with an uninspired effort. It was unceremonious, but in the end Montreal went out with not a bang, but a whimper.
The truth is, despite the convincing performance by the Lightning deciding game, is the Habs had lost the series in the early going, by failing to win games in which they had outplayed their opponents. It's also worth noting that the powerplays from the respective teams were quite the juxtaposition; Tampa Bay producing slick, crisp passes, whereas Montreal was mostly stagnant with the man advantage. Possession is important, but the type of dominance Tampa Bay displayed during the powerplay is definitely enough to tip the scales in a seven-game series.
Predictably, as the dust settles, the yearly debate surrounding Michel Therrien has already commenced. It will be discussed ad nauseam. One camp will claim that the Habs have never been better, and that results are what matter in sports. The other camp will point to the lack of strategic adjustments, the poor regular season possession numbers, and the performance of Carey Price.
Essentially, both arguments hold water. I don't think Therrien is necessarily a bad coach. His team produced fantastic numbers throughout the playoffs, and it's tough to overlook where the Habs landed in the standings in the past two season. On the other hand, I do believe his grinding system is one of the reasons Montreal ran out of steam. It's an incredibly taxing strategy that takes its toll on players as the season goes on. There's also the worry that Therrien may be wasting the prime of several stars.
All of this is moot, since I truly believe there's almost no chance that Marc Bergevin fires his coach this summer, even if there's a rare surplus of quality coaches available on the market.
Priority number one for Bergevin will clearly need to be the re-signing of Jeff Petry. His influence on the team was evident throughout the playoffs, and considering Andrei Markov is approaching the end of his career, the Habs would be wise to bolster their defensive core, at almost any cost. Petry won't come cheap, but that shouldn't be a deterrent. The wise GM spends his money on the best players, and makes space for them when the opportunity arises.
Price was, as per usual, way too humble in defeat. He basically attempted to shoulder the blame for the series. Chin up, Carey, everyone knows you're the only reason Montreal made it to the playoffs in the first place.
We'll see how management reacts to the playoff exit, but I'm really hoping not to hear any more "transition year" rhetoric. The Habs have a Norris calibre defender, the best goalie in the world, Max Pacioretty & Brendan Gallagher on sweetheart deals, and a plethora of quality players to compliment the core. The window is open now.
It's time to focus on Alex Galchenyuk. If the Habs are to become a legitimate Stanley Cup threat, he needs to develop into that #1 centre role they originally drafted him for.
Let's not allow the pain of defeat to overshadow the fact that we were treated to one of the best goaltender performances in NHL history. Price will bring home a slew of trophies at the awards show, and deservedly so.
On a more informal note, our site attracted record numbers once again this season, and the main reason for our success is the driving force behind our community; our site members. I'd like to thank everyone who took part in this great community during the year, and I'd like to extend an invitation to hang around as we transition into the off-season. We've got lots of content on deck to keep us busy until training camp.
Thank you all very much. It was a hell of a run.