Let’s be the knowledgeable and classy Montreal hockey fans that we like to think we are by giving credit where credit is due:
The New York Rangers deserved to win the Eastern Conference Final.
They did so by playing textbook defence in Game 6, choking the last gaps of life out of a Canadiens team that was running on empty.
But what a run it was!
Your Canadiens lost the first and last games of their 2013-’14 season.
In between, they played better hockey than most of us expected.
On Oct. 1, when the Bell Centre siren sounded to end a 4-3 loss to Toronto, did anyone think the Canadiens would be ending their season by losing 1-0 at Madison Square Garden on May 29?
This team overachieved for the better part of eight months. They displayed character and resilience, capturing the hearts of a city that needs some distraction while we wait for the Champlain Bridge to collapse.
“I’m proud of this team,” Michel Therrien said – and fans should share the coach’s pride in a group of players that never quit.
“We made big progress,” Therrien added. “We battled hard in the regular season. We battled hard in the playoffs.”
“What’s not to like about the Montreal Canadiens?” TSN hockey analyst asked 690 listeners a few hours before the puck dropped Thursday. There wasn’t much to like in Game 6, but Ferraro’s was an accurate assessment of a team that is blessed with a core of very talented young players.
In Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, both of whom shone against the Rangers, Ferraro said the Canadiens had “two-thirds of a line that will be great for 10 years.”
Remember the last time the Canadiens reached a conference final?
It was 2010. After upsetting Washington and Pittsburgh, the Canadiens returned to earth with a thud, losing to Philadelphia in five games. Then they traded away their playoff hero; and many Canadiens fans – maybe most – thought the team had made a grievous error in choosing Carey Price over Jaro Halak.
Difficult personnel decisions await in the wake of this most recent conference final loss. But his track record suggests Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin will make wise moves to ensure the team continues to improve.
Priority number one is getting P.K. Subban’s signature on a new contract. Considering the degree to which the Rangers focused on trying to stop him, P.K. played well in the series. Pending the development of Nathan Beaulieu, which isn’t going to happen overnight, Subban is the team’s best puck-moving defenceman and power-play quarterback.
P.K. is also the darling of the Bell Centre and – with his pal Carey Price – the most popular athlete in a city where flamboyance does not go unappreciated … among fans, if not coaches.
Signing P.K. long-term is a no-brainer. But Bergevin faces a more difficult decision on Andrei Markov.
The veteran looked slow and worn-down against the speedy, aggressive Rangers. I wouldn’t sign him for more than two years, but Markov may want more.
Tough call. And it’s complicated by the Canadiens having three defencemen who should be ready regular NHL duty next season: Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn.
I’d like to see the Canadiens keep Mike Weaver. But we’ve seen the last of Douglas Murray and Francis Bouillon.
Up front, say goodbye to Thomas Vanek and, probably, Brian Gionta. George Parros is certainly history. Probably Ryan White, as well.
Bergevin will have to re-sign Lars Eller, who saved his best hockey for the playoffs. Dale Weise should be back. He was sorely missed in Game 6. Brandon Prust could not deliver what Weise had been contributing in terms of speed and winning puck battles.
As has been the case in recent years, the Tomas Plekanec of the playoffs did not match the player we saw during the regular season. Pleks does so much, in all three zones, during the regular season that I suspect he runs of out gas in the playoffs.
Was that the real Rene Bourque we’ve been watching for the last six weeks? Fans can only hope.
And was that the real Dustin Tokarski? If so, Bergevin has a pleasant problem, because Peter Budaj is under contract for another season and Zach Fucale is in the pipeline.
Tokarski as trade bait?
It’s going to be an interesting summer. And fans can enjoy the off-season because your Montreal Canadiens are a good team with a management group that’s going to make them better.
Given the general manager’s commitment to calm, careful team development, the brilliant Josie Gold has imagined Marc Bergevin as the Buddha.
And on that note of serenity, I’d like to thank the HIO community for reading my ravings and providing so much stimulating feedback through a long and very enjoyable season.
Love you guys.
See ya in the autumn.