Preserve a one-goal lead for two minutes against the sixth-worst team in the NHL and the Canadiens would have punched their ticket to the dance.
The Canadiens blew 2-1 and 3-2 leads.
Jaro Halak faced 42 shots.
Andrei Kostitsyn took a penalty in OT.
And first up in the shootout was Maxim Lapierre, followed by snakebit Mike Cammalleri.
Is there anything more tear-out-your-hair maddening in sports than being a Montreal Canadiens fan?
I haven’t been teased like this since Grade 11.
I’m watching Michel Bergeron on l’Antichambre, where he’s ragging on the goal-scorers who are missing in action.
Mike Cammalleri has been blanked in the 10 games since he returned from his knee injury.
Scott Gomez hasn’t scored in 12 games.
Benoit Pouliot has one goal in a dozen games.
But the problem is more profound and troubling than anemic offence.
The team lacks killer instinct.
It’s one thing to blow a 2-0 lead late against Buffalo. The Sabres are an elite team.
But the New York Islanders?
With a defence consisting of Mark Streit and five guys you’ve never heard of … including Mark Flood, whom the Canadiens drafted out of Peterborough in the sixth round, 188th overall, seven years ago?
For the first period and the latter part of the third, it was hard to tell which team was heading for the playoffs and which for a lottery draft pick.
In addition to their 42 shots, the Islanders missed the net 13 times and had 26 blocked. Corresponding numbers for the Canadiens were 31, seven and 14.
That’s 81-52, and it corresponds roughly to the NFL’s time of possession stat as an indicator of dominance.
Yes, the Islanders have been giant-killers. Playing with no pressure, they had knocked off Ottawa and Calgary.
Credit the Canadiens with bouncing back from a dismal first period to seize momentum and take the lead. Huge goals by Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta, who have been clutch all season. And a brilliant individual effort by Max, recently paroled from the pressbox.
With the Rangers getting pasted in Buffalo, all the Canadiens had to do was preserve their lead and, woo hoo!, they’re in.
Maybe Jacques Martin should have called timeout with five minutes left and invoted Alec Baldwin to address the troops.
Remember Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, invoking the salesman’s creed:
“ABC. Always Be Closing.”
The Canadiens couldn’t close. And now they go to Carolina and return hom for a game against the Leafs that they may still need for either the postseason or a favourable seeding.
• The third and fourth lines gave everything they’ve got. They always do.
• The power play had some decent puck control. But everything happens on the right side, to the too-frequent exclusion of Markov.
• The PK – especially the oft-maligned Hal Gill – was heroic in OT.
• Ryan O’Byrne had 10 hits and blocked six shots, leading both teams in both categories. O’B outplayed his Norrisworthy partner. Along with Josh Gorges, he forms the B.C.-born heart of the Canadiens’ D.
• Jaro Halak made some brilliant saves, notably a robbery of John Tavares.
Was the third Islanders’ goal stoppable? Was Jaro brutal in the shootout?
Will we see Carey Price in Carolina?
Yes, yes and no.
But no matter who’s in nets, the Canadiens will have a tough time with the Hurricanes – and, God save us, the Leafs – if the top two lines continue to spin their wheels.
Barring a total, pointless collapse and a miracle Rangers revival, the Canadiens will be playing hockey next week.
But if they play with the phlegmatic lack of intensity we saw on the Island, it will be another very quick exit, regardless of first-round opponent.
Such a frustrating team.