Four NHL teams have clinched playoff spots.
Three of them didn’t celebrate by chugging big hits of suck juice.
And then there are your Montreal Canadiens.
Unlike the Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks and Pittsburgh Penguins, the Canadiens don’t look like a team that’s ready for the 2013 playoffs.
Since sewing up a spot in the postseason, they’ve looked like the 2012 Montreal Canadiens.
Maybe worse, because a year ago fans weren’t expecting much from a last-place team.
Through 40 games of the truncated 2013 season, the Canadiens raised hopes and expectations to what may have been an unrealistic level.
But if the team we’ve seen in games 41 and 42 is the real Canadiens, the playoffs …
Well, let’s promise a phrase from 17th-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes:
The Canadiens’ postseason could be nasty, brutish and short.
Last Thursday in Buffalo, the Canadiens outshot the Sabres 42-15 en route to the 5-1 win that put an “x” beside Montreal in the Eastern Conference standings.
Little did we know it stood for “execrable”.
After Monday’s 7-3 home-ice pasting at the hands of the non-playoff Flyers, veteran sportscaster Ron Reusch offered this grim assessment: “The Canadiens clinched a playoff spot, and they haven’t played a good period since.”
Tough to argue.
Down 3-0 after 10 minutes in Toronto Saturday night and down 2-0 to Philadelphia after less than six minutes of Monday’s game, the Canadiens – who had played brilliant first periods through much of the season, scoring first in 28 of their 40 starts – were on their back foot and chasing the game against the Leafs and Flyers.
In Toronto and even more egregiously back at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens seemed incapable of playing the disciplined style that had carried them to the lofty heights of first place in the Northeast Division. Where was the tenacious puck pursuit? Where was the lightning-fast transition game?
Where was the checking? After recording 36 hits in Toronto, the Canadiens had ONE (by Nathan Beaulieu) through 20 minutes and two through 40 against Philadelphia. Play that soft against the Flyers and you’re doomed.
And where was the franchise goaltender?
MIA at the ACC, Carey Price was better against the Flyers. Without his saves on three breakaways, the game would have been done and dusted after 20 minutes.
As it was, Price stood reasonably tall through a 17-shot first-period bombardment. And the game was tied early in the second period on a power-play goal by Brendan Gallagher – again, the best Canadiens forward … heck, the best Canadien skater … WTF, the best player in a red jersey.
The 2-2 deadlock lasted 24 seconds. Then Claude Giroux, who was brilliant, set up Jakub Voracek for an uncontested 12-foot wrister and the rout was on.
Gallagher was the best Canadien, but he wasn’t the only one who played well. P.K. Subban had two more assists and played like he hated the Flyers. Galchenyuk and Lars Eller were two forwards who managed to create some pressure in the Flyers’ zone.
The other 14 skaters? Varying degrees of awful, and some were worse than others. The group suck raised a few troubling questions:
• Was Alexei Emelin carrying his defence partner through 38 games? Watching Andrei Markov struggle, you wonder how he would fare in an 82-game season, with or without his Russian homeboy. And what if knee surgery makes Emelin as slow and contact-averse as Markov?
• Is it time for Carey Price to book a session with team psychologist Sylvain Guimond?
• Would Josh Gorges be playing Top Four minutes on a good hockey team? Would Francis Bouillon?
• What did David Desharnais do to merit 20:42 of ice time – more than any other forward on either team?
• If Travis Moen was serious about challenging Wayne Simmonds, why did he wait until garbage time?
Because the tragic events in Boston forced postponement of the Bruins-Senators game, the Canadiens are still atop the Northeast Division.
But Boston is a point back, with a game in hand. And don’t look now, but the Leafs are four points off the division lead.
The Canadiens are in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. It might be time for Michel Therrien to cue up his Greatest Penguins Hits:
• There were moments of silence for victims of the Boston tragedy in Montreal, Chicago, Calgary, Nashville and Phoenix.
As a Montrealer who loves his city, I am dismayed to note the Bell Centre as the only venue where yahoos screamed during the brief ceremony.
Disgusting and depressing … the more so in contrast to what happened a week ago when the Liverpool football club in England remembered the Hillsborough disaster.
For a full minute at the great Anfield stadium, players linked arms and you could hear a pin drop.
But in Montreal, we can’t STFU for 10 seconds.