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Canadiens vs. Lightning Game Recap: Individual milestones cap disappointing season

Montreal ends the season on a high note as we reflect on the bittersweet season that was.

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Canadiens faced the Tampa Bay Lightning in the last game of the season. It was a fitting finish against a team that the Habs have defeated three times over the course of this season, going for a rare clean sweep.

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Montreal won a game against the Lightning earlier this year with Ben Scrivens in net and Devante Smith-Pelly scoring the game-winning goal. It's a reminder of how tumultuous this season has been that two players who have since departed the team contributed to one of its rare victories.

Montreal has had Tampa Bay's number this year, because, for some strange reason, sometimes good teams don't do well against bad ones.

Early in the first, Andrei Vasilevskiy misplayed the puck behind his own net after Brendan Gallagher applied some pressure. Alex Galchenyuk received the puck in the slot and buried it from his backhand.

It was a reminder of how much the team missed Gallagher while he was out with broken fingers; a loss that came on the heels of the injury to star goaltender Carey Price back in November.

It was Galchenyuk's 29th goal of the year to make it 1-0. He has enjoyed success as a centre, leaving me wondering if he would have been looking for his 40th goal playing a full season with Pacioretty and Gallagher on his wings.

Greg Pateryn then pushed an off-balance Tyler Johnson with a cross-check, sending the young scoring forward flying into the boards. Johnson left with an injury and Pateryn received a game misconduct. It was the end of what has been a good year for the young defenceman, getting fewer games of experience than perhaps his play has suggested he was capable of.

Moments later, Tomas Plekanec scored, and I recalled his torrid pace to start the season and his long lapses in the interim. Yet, the reliable and versatile veteran still produced a respectable 53-point campaign. I wonder how many more 50-plus-point seasons he has left in him, and if they will be in Montreal.

Pacioretty scored 30 seconds into the second period to make it 3-0 Montreal. It was a true Pacioretty goal, a laser beam of a wrist shot from his off-wing, giving him 29 goals on the season, and setting up a race to 30 with Galchenyuk. Pacioretty had scored at least 33 in his last three full seasons.

I remember those years as being full of hope for the future. Now the number 30 holds a different significance for this team. Pacioretty, Price, and P.K. Subban are all a year closer to their 30th birthdays. Plekanec and Markov are another year removed from theirs.

Alex Galchenyuk won the race, scoring his 30th to make it 4-0. It was a top-shelf shot on a rolling puck.

It's unfortunate that the season came down to individual success after the team had gotten off to such a good start, but Galchenyuk's late-season run was a welcome distraction, and perhaps even a bit of relief, through the winter months spent without a real prospect of a playoff appearance. The good news is that the summer can be spent knowing that the team's effort to acquire a top-line centre when they took Galchenyuk third overall in 2012 seems to have been successful.

Something happened at centre ice. I rubbed my eyes, disbelieving, but it was true: Paul Byron was fighting Tampa Bay's Vladislav Namestnikov. The fight itself was unremarkable, but it called to mind one of Marc Bergevin's only moves at the trade deadline: bringing in well-known knuckleduster Mike Brown (who was a healthy scratch last night).

Sportsnet aired a graphic of the man-games lost soon afterward, with the rookies called up, and players employed by Montreal this year. I remembered the sign above the Canadiens locker room door that reads "No Excuses/Pas d'Excuses." They even translated it.

Tampa scored two goals in the third, first Ondrej Palat, then Jonathan Drouin to make it 4-2. I remember when I considered Montreal trading for Drouin as a means of righting the season and making the playoffs.

Late in the third, Pacioretty scored into the empty net after some hard work from Gallagher to set him up. The cumulative effect of he and Galchenyuk sharing the 30-goal milestone in this last game brought a satisfying end to a disappointing season.

Once the game was over, I reflected on the season as a whole.

I thought back to December, when the losing began. When those losses were affordable; when they didn't matter. By the time they did, it was too late. The losses piled up consistently — relentlessly — towards a known result.

The game ended in a victory, but the reality of a failed season will hang over an organization that had much greater ambitions when it all got underway in October.

I'll wait for next year for the Canadiens to play games that matter. It will be nice to see the players hitting milestones on their way to a playoff run, rather than in lieu of one.