And so, six months later, this is it.
A season that began with such fanfare and optimism is set to come to a whimpering end. A dream start, one that looked like perhaps the foundation for a Stanley Cup run, now feels more like a faded prehistory than a legitimate artifact of this wretched season.
The Canadiens two most important players, Carey Price and P.K. Subban, will be forced to watch the final attrition as they heal. One wonders if they might do so in a more literal sense of the phrase than is typical.
It's tempting to offer the 2015-16 campaign some privacy as it slides toward its unceremonious end, but for Canadiens fans, watching the boys skate one last time for this year might be the best and only form of therapy available.
If we're lucky, it just might be the final chapter in a needlessly depressing story.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:00 PM ET
In the Canadiens region (French): TVAS
In the Canadiens region (English): Sportsnet
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|51.4||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||52.8|
|0.96||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.17|
Know Your Enemy
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The Lightning, without Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman, don't look prepared to do much to contest the Habs. Besides those two first unit fixtures, Ryan Callahan and Victor Hedman have also been day-to-day of late, and may well rest up heading into the playoffs.
With Tampa's second place finish in the division assured, they'll wait only to find out which opponent will make the pilgrimage to Amalie Arena next week. Whether it's the Detroit Red Wings or Boston Bruins, the Lightning are likely still favourites, even in their weakened state.
Of course, making good on those favourable odds will mean finding some offence, a difficult task in the absence of Stamkos' patented left-side one-timers. Anticipating that issue, the Lightning will deploy one of the best weapons in their arsenal, Jonathan Drouin.
Last year, contending with an enviable supply of offensive creativity among their forward group, the Lightning saw fit to play straightforward veteran Brenden Morrow instead of the dynamic youngster during their playoff run. Faced with a similar situation this season, Drouin spoke up and was ostracized for much of the campaign. Drouin's return comes at the time when his team needs him most.
Set to play an offensive role in his team's top-six, Drouin needs as badly as his club for him to make the most of it.
Last Time Out
When these two teams met, just over one week ago, the division title was still on the line for the Lightning. The Canadiens made sure they would not claim it.
David Desharnais landed the first blow, banging home a rebound as one of multiple Canadiens to take advantage of good positioning in the middle of the ice on the play.
Torrey Mitchell scored early in the second, blowing by Andrej Sustr and shelving the puck behind Ben Bishop with a power move one might expect out of a Jamie Benn or Alex Ovechkin.
Mike Condon did the rest, holding the fort amid a Lightning flurry early in the third period. For his trouble, he got his first career shutout; a triumph cemented when Phillip Danault jumped out of the box and buried an empty-netter.
Though the game mattered more to their opponent, the Habs came out, played solidly, and took away a win. With roles reversed tonight, Canadiens fans taking the long-view might appreciate if the Lightning could repay the favour this evening.
A win in this game, for obvious reasons, will mean little. But perhaps a loss, taken as part of a four-year sample, can be one more shred of evidence in favour of decisions long overdue.