The Montreal Canadiens wrapped up the Atlantic Division title in their previous game, riding a five-game winning streak — and an 8-2-1 record since mid-March — to accomplish that feat before the end of the season. As a result, the Habs had nothing to play for in their final three games.
And it showed.
Playing a team that had been eliminated from post-season contention for a sixth consecutive year, neither side was particularly interested in the Wednesday-night matchup.
One lacklustre play by Habs saw the puck turned over in their zone while the Sabres were changing, leading to the game’s opening goal from Rasmus Ristolainen.
The best chance from Montreal didn’t even get registered in the shot count. With a gaping net, Dwight King swept the puck from the side of the net across the crease and off the far goal post, extending his difficult debut with his new team.
The players in front of him may not have been giving their best effort, but Carey Price was still up to his usual standards, and made a big cross-crease save to hold the deficit to just a single goal in the second period.
There wasn’t much the goalie could do on the Sabres’ second goal of the game, as the puck sat in the feet of three of his teammates, going untouched by any of them before Tyler Ennis decided he’d get his stick on it and fire it into the net from close range.
The Habs went to the dressing room with a two-goal deficit. When they returned, they were minus one skater, as Alexei Emelin did not return after sustaining a lower-body injury.
The Canadiens provided a bit of excitement for the throng of Habs fans that were in attendance, as Tomas Plekanec finished of a great passing play just 46 seconds into the final frame.
Any hopes of the usual high-energy third-period performance that fuels the exhilarating comeback slowly dissipated in the following minutes as the teams reverted to their disinterested play. A power play for the Habs in the middle of the frame that went by with little threat of a tying goal seemed to take what little breeze was puffing the sails away.
With Price on the bench in the final minutes, and the Sabres committed to icing the puck to run out the clock, the Habs got one last chance to tie the game. With the puck on the stick of Andrei Markov and an open look at the net, his shot went wide of the mark, and the buzzer sounded before the Habs could launch another on goal.
Montreal’s winning streak was halted at five, as they fell to the Sabres in the final game at KeyBank Center this season by a 2-1 score.
- You can’t — well, you shouldn’t, anyway — put too much stock in the outcome of the game that followed the team wrapping up home-ice advantage and a regular-season division championship. Every player is capable of much more than he showed last night, as evidenced by the great run over the previous month that earned them these three games with nothing on the line.
- From the outset, Price seemed to know exactly how his team would fare, and was determined to win the game anyway. He saw the reduced effort level as a degree of difficulty and was determined to overcome the challenge.
- What seemed like a minor annoyance a few days ago may now be a bit of a concern. Jordie Benn still hasn’t returned from whatever ailment he’s dealing with, and while Shea Weber’s injury is minor, it’s still an injury to a top-pairing defenceman heading in to the playoffs. Now add Emelin to that list, and what was a deep blue line heading into the post-season is starting to thin. The Habs may be forced to burn their remaining call-ups on AHL defenders to help spread the load and not tax those left standing with too many minutes over the final two games.