How badly did it hurt?
When it was his turn to render a verdict during the RDS postgame show, Vincent Damphousse didn’t pull his punches.
He said the Canadiens will miss the playoffs.
By winning, Tampa Bay moved past the Canadiens into 12th place in the Eastern Conference. Both teams have 35 points, but the Lightning have played two fewer games.
It’s fine and dandy to point out the Canadiens are a mere six points out of eighth-place.
But there are four teams between them and that lofty ideal. And the Canadiens have played more games than everyone in the Eastern Conference except 14th-place Carolina.
The Canadiens are behind the eight-, nine-, 10-, 11- and 12-balls. Moreover, the task of getting past all those teams in front of them is complicated by three-point games.
Make no mistake. “Mike” Therrien is right on. In blowing a lead and losing for the 14th time this season, the Canadiens have sustained a body blow to their hopes of playing hockey in mid-April. Because of so many wasted leads, they are a fragile team that plays with the constant expectation that the other skate is about to drop.
And the worst of it: You can hang the latest loss on two players who have been carrying the team this season:
• Carey Price failed to control the puck on the J.T. Wyman goal that brough the Lightning off the ropes and back into the game. He was then beaten by something less than a MAB laser, then failed to get on the puck again during the sequence that led to Vincent Lecavalier’s winner.
• On that goal, Erik Cole lost a faceoff to Lecavalier and then failed to pick up Vinny in coverage.
Add one more goat: Randy Cunneyworth.
On a defensive zone faceoff in a 3-3 game, why didn’t the coach have two centres on the ice? Once lars Eller was chased from the circle, Cole had to take the faceoff and Lecavalier beat him easily.
The home team went 29-20 on draws. The Lightning also outhit the Canadiens 22-18.
And the three unanswered goals came against each of the Canadiens’ D pairings and the Nokelainen, Plekanec and Eller lines. So lots of minuses to go around.
But for the long stretches of the game, the guys in white jerseys were the better team – which makes the loss that much more painful.
“Everybody did a great job for the most part,” Cunneyworth said after the game.
There was much to savor before the roof caved in:
• Mike Cammalleri scored again – his first power-play goal since March 30. The renascent sniper had five SoG. I don’t know why he wasn’t on when the Canadiens had a 6-on-4 and were trying to tie the game.
• Raphael Diaz had two assists and Alexei Emelin had six hits to lead both teams. They are hastening the day when Chris Campoli and Yannick Weber become former Montreal Canadiens.
• Despite taking a bad penalty, Eller played a solid game with his big linemates and put in quality PP and PK time. He and DD both had more ToI than Tomas Plekanec.
• The power play looked dangerous, as it did in Ottawa.
• P.K. Subban took a bad penalty but played 26:33, had four SoG and blocked a couple shots.
• The league’s best road PK pitched another shutout.
• Cunneyworth was able to roll four lines, and the Canadiens’ 34 shots – to 22 for Tampa Bay – included some excellent scoring chances.
But Mathieu Garon is not Craig Anderson.
And for one of the few times this season, Carey Price wasn’t Carey Price.
It’s on to Sunrise, where the Canadiens play the Panthers on New Year’s Eve and try to end 2011 on a winning note, rekindling hope that this season can be salvaged.
• • •
If it comes to pass that the Canadiens miss the playoffs and Geoff Molson cleans house, here’s my ticket for broom-wielders:
General Manager: Julien BriseBois
Coach: Guy Carbonneau.