I'm sure that most fans will recall the last playoff meeting between the Habs and Senators. I'm also sure that most fans, at least on the Montreal side of things, would likely agree that it was one to forget. As much as one might like to pretend it never happened, today we're talking about the 4-1 series loss that ended the Habs playoff run during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
It took a long time to even see some NHL hockey that year. Many a frustrated hockey fan spent the first few supposed months of the season wondering if they would even get to see their team suit up for a single game, never mind the playoffs. And, as excited as Habs fans would be for the playoffs, none could have predicted the tragic comedy that was about to befall the second-seeded Canadiens in a year of great hope.
Game 1: Eller down
Lars Eller, by far the Habs' best player in the early goings of game one, took a brutal hit by Eric Gryba and would end up missing the rest of the series. Whether you view the play through the lens of a partisan fan or not, it's pretty hard to argue that Gryba's hit was not extremely dirty, and it cost the Habs greatly. Eller looked to have found another gear in that game, and had he been able to keep playing, who knows how he would have impacted the outcome of the series.
It is also worth noting, and few will forget, the suicide pass that was dished to Eller by former teammate Raphael Diaz,. But even harder to shake was the image of Lars Eller lying in a pool of his own blood, something that the Ottawa Sun inexcusably thought appropriate to muse about in their cover story the following morning. To this day, I personally will never pick up a copy of the Ottawa Sun as a direct result of that disgusting act of so-called journalism.
But I digress. The loss of Eller was devastating, and while the Habs did manage a go-ahead goal during the major penalty assessed to Gryba on the play, it was all downhill from there,
Game 2: Character win
The second match was met with the unwelcome news that in addition to Lars Eller being out, Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty would also miss the game. This was your basic worst-case scenario, and it reeked of a loss going in, but they managed to rally together and come out on top 3-1.
This was the game where Ryan White picked off Erik Karlsson, and went in to score a beauty of a one-handed goal. Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher were absolutely huge in stepping up with three hugely important forwards out, and Carey Price had easily his best game of the series. After game one, this felt like it was much more of what was expected of the team, and helped restore some hope after the disappointment.
Game 3: The wheels come off
This was quite possibly the worst game I've ever had the displeasure of watching. I never waver in my love for the Montreal Canadiens, but that game was in essence a disgrace to the tricolore. They lost their heads, they tried to goon it up, and that played right into the hands of the Senators.
It turned a 2-1 deficit at the end of two periods into a laughable 6-1 loss that put them back down in the series with another road game on tap. Were I Michel Therrien, or any member of the Habs coaching staff, I would show the team tape of that game, with the intent of showing them exactly what not to do this time around.
Game 4: Questionable officiating
Then there was what can only be described as an awful game by the refs in the fourth act. Most who are familiar with me will know that I have no problem criticizing refs, but this was a truly special case of horrendous officiating. Even if you forget the countless penalty worthy infractions committed by the Senators that went uncalled, the refs were still the deciding factor in that game.
Whether it was allowing Mika Zibanejad to kick the puck in the net, or ridiculous icing calls late, the performance from Tim Peel and company was absolutely terrible, and it ruined the game. I'd not suggest that they were actively working against the Canadiens, but I would suggest that they were very one sided, and it was embarrassingly bad. Perhaps it was partly reactionary to the antics of the previous game, but that is still no excuse for the refs.
The highly questionable officiating allowed the Sens to undeservedly get into an overtime period, in which they got the win, and along with it, a stranglehold on the series.
Game 5: All she wrote
Game five was simply all she wrote for the Habs. Uninspired and seemingly out of gas, it felt like one they didn't even want to get up for as they coasted their way to a second embarrassing 6-1 loss.
While the Habs fared very well from a puck-possession standpoint throughout the series; the brilliance of Craig Anderson, and downright awful luck was just too much to overcome. But if the motto of these Canadiens is indeed "no excuses," then no comfort should be taken in the idea that they should have won. They will instead have to look for revenge
An emerging rivalry with interesting history
For this modern iteration of the Ottawa Senators, it is only the second time they will meet the Canadiens in the playoffs. Back in the really early days, the Habs faced the Senators in a seven-game series for the right to play for the Stanley Cup 1919, which ultimately culminated in the cup being awarded to the Canadiens due to an outbreak of Spanish Influenza.
Another interesting historical tidbit is that they also faced in three separate total goals series in 1923, 1924, and 1927. The Habs only managed to win one of these (1923) but what is particularly interesting about these early meetings is that the winners of all three went on to also take the Stanley Cup. Of course, the Senators were absent from the NHL from 1934 to 1992, otherwise the rivalry could have the type of rich playoff history that exists between the Habs and Bruins.
It may only be the second meeting in the modern era, but as it is the second in only three years, we have quite the emerging rivalry on our hands. Fans and players alike are starting to get on board with this, and we'll have to see if the intensity can continue to build from what went down two seasons ago.
And this year, a near identical stage has been set , as the division champion Habs will meet the seventh-seeded Senators. Will Lars Eller show up the way he did in game one the last time around, and stay healthy? Will Andrew Hammond be able to play like Craig Anderson? Will Carey Price be the Carey Price we've seen all year? Can the Habs keep their cool if the Sens play chippy? We'll find out soon enough, as Game 1 goes Wednesday night in Montreal.