A drama-filled shootout win by the Columbus Blue Jackets officially rendered Saturdays 744th meeting between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs utterly meaningless, since it officially eliminated the Habs from playoff contention.
The field of 16 is set for the two-month chase for Lord Stanleys chalice. Were looking at you now, Flames, Leafs and Jets, to end the dry spell for this Cup-starved country.
Video: Capitals defeat Habs, 2-1, to clinch Metropolitan
Capitals Survive Canadiens to Win Metropolitan Division
All thats left to play for is positional jockeying on the final day of the 2018-19 regular season – and one little detail that could only rub salt on a fresh wound in La Belle Province.
With a win on Saturday night, the Canadiens will become the second team in NHL history to rack up 96 points and be denied a postseason bid. That would make the Habs at least four points better than the eighth-place finisher in the West.
So, yes, the Canadiens have missed the playoffs a second straight spring for the first time in two decades. (Remember when Y2K fear mongering was a thing? Its been a while.) Step back further and its three long summers in four years.
Montreal Canadiens Magical Ride
In a city where anything less than Cup contention is failure, that would make these dark times. But the pain is dulled today in Montreal – because its easy to overlook the ugly recent past with a future so bright.
To say that this years Habs exceeded expectations would be putting it lightly. Theyve already obliterated the over/under point total set in Vegas by 13.5 points.
Founded in 2009, The Hockey Writers is a premier destination for news and information on everything hockey. Updated daily with news and features from over 130 writers worldwide. Over 2 million monthly readers now come to THW for their hockey fix.
Yet, what is so inspiring about the state of the Canadiens isnt necessarily about the point total – or how close they came to the postseason – but rather a confluence of a relentless and quick brand of hockey, a promising future already on display and an all-world Carey Price reverting to his old self.
It feels like forever ago now that maligned forwards Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk hung over the Habs like a black cloud.
NOTES: The Capitals have won four consecutive division championships once before in franchise history, capturing the Southeast Division crown between the 2007-08 and 2010-11 seasons. . Weber is now one goal shy of his 100th on the power play in his career. . Washington avoided its first consecutive losses in regulation since dropping four in a row in January. . Montreals Phillip Danault picked up his 41st assist, moving within two of Max Domi for the team lead.
The 2018-19 Canadiens almost completely reinvented themselves from top (Marc Bergevin and Claude Julien) to bottom (Tomas Tatar, Max Domi, Shea Weber and Price).
Tatar should win the Comeback Player of the Year award, if one existed, hitting a new career-high of 58 points after being handed to the Habs as a salary dump in the Pacioretty deal.
“I think we did the right things at the right time,” Holtby said. “If we were under duress in our end, at least someone came up with a big play, flip it out or something. Live to fight another day. At the blue lines we were a lot better, a lot like we need to be in the playoffs and I thought the guys had a high-level commitment to winning.”
Domi led the Canadiens with 71 points, the most in Montreal since Tomas Plekanecs 70 in 2009-10. He scored 28 goals after netting a combined 18 over his last two seasons in Arizona, including an oft-mocked four empty-netters among nine goals last year.
Washington clinches division with win over the Canadiens
Jesperi Kotkaniemi, 18, was the youngest player in the NHL by three months but appeared to be unflappable. The poised Finn put up 34 points just months after being selected third overall.
There are no longer cries for help at centre. Kotkaniemi could well be the two-way, No. 1 pivot the Habs have been craving. Domi is an ideal No. 2 centre that attacks the zone with pace and tenacity. Meanwhile, Phillip Danault will receive votes for the Selke Trophy.
"I think we did the right things at the right time," Holtby said. "If we were under duress in our end, at least someone came up with a big play, flip it out or something. Live to fight another day. At the blue lines we were a lot better, a lot like we need to be in the playoffs and I thought the guys had a high-level commitment to winning."
On the backend, Man Mountain Weber answered lingering questions about his health with a productive 33 points in 57 games and Jeff Petry piled up a career-best 45 points.
Perhaps most importantly, Price silenced critics in the first year of his $84 million deal by hitting his career average .918 save percentage. After injury-riddled campaigns, he led the leagues netminders in minutes over 66 appearances.
Now, Bergevin will have $18 to $20 million to spend this summer. He has no contract fires to put out and 10 picks in this Junes draft.
After a tough last few years that saw the injury bug bite him hard, Carey Price returned in 2019 with something to prove. He vowed to be better this season, and boy was he ever. Price has played in 30 of the teams last 31 games, and his 66 games played are the second-highest of his career. You can definitely make the argument that the Canadiens would not even be in the position they are in had it not been for the British Columbia natives sensational play. In fact, on some nights when the Canadiens just could not find a way to score, it was the 31-year-old goaltender who kept him in contention.
He signed top prospects Ryan Poehling and Cayden Primeau out of school. Nick Suzuki and Josh Brook are coming. Alexander Romanov is in the pipeline in Russia.
The left side of their defence still needs to be rebuilt. Victor Mete, Mike Reilly, Jordie Benn and Brett Kulak do not make a contending left side. They need to retool the 30th ranked power play, which would have been the difference between playoffs and not this year. The Habs are still in need of a real star up front; they havent had a point-per-game scorer since Alex Kovalev in 2007-08.
It doesnt feel good to be a Habs fan as we face the possibility they will miss the playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons.
In a game with postseason feel, Capitals secure Metro title with win over Canadiens
You can say whatever you want. You can talk about how exciting the games were this year, how the Habs have great prospects, how they were so much better than last season’s team.
Canadiens at Washington Capitals: Five things you should know
You can say it, but I’m tired of hearing it. The players did show real character this season. I loved Carey Price’s heartfelt words after that soul-destroying loss to the Capitals on Thursday night in Washington.
“It’s a great show of character along this last stretch,” said a crestfallen Price. “We’ve really shown our true colours.”
Canadiens goaltender Carey Price blocks a shot by the Capitals in Washington on Thursday, April 4, 2019. The Capitals won 2-1. Susan Walsh / AP
They did. Those wins against Winnipeg and Tampa Bay were huge and that’s why, leading up to this latest must-win game Thursday, there was a sense of euphoria in the city, that anything was possible. This squad did show real character down the stretch and all season. Players such as Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar, Max Domi, Jeff Petry and so many others gave their heart and soul every game.
But it wasn’t enough. They were punching above their weight. And the loss to the Caps simply proved what some of us already knew: Character can only bring you so far, despite what GM Marc Bergevin said. When the going gets tough late in the season and during the playoffs, the bigger and better team wins.
One of the richer ironies of the Bergevin era is that this tough-guy grinder, journeyman defenceman-turned-GM has built a team that’s too small — just like almost every other Habs team since 1993. Did you see Brooks Orpik annihilate everything that moved on the ice Thursday? Did you see Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin slam Gally one after the other?
The Canadiens don’t need big fourth-liners who can’t play, they need big players who bring something to the ice. They need better players, as in Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, etc. I’ll come back to one of my obsessions: Why is it the Canadiens have not had a bona fide star forward in 26 years? Someone who ends up in the top 10 of the NHL scoring charts.
For the Capitals (47-25-8), the defending Stanley Cup champions, a win against the Canadiens would guarantee top spot in the Metropolitan Division for the fourth straight season. The Capitals would also capture the title if the New York Islanders lose in regulation time Thursday against the Florida Panthers.
This team is not where it needs to be and there is no proof that it’s on its way there. Bergevin made some good moves last summer, bringing in Domi and Tatar. The Canadiens are 23 points ahead of their 2017-18 total and the team deserves praise for that.
But why are we drawing comparisons to one of the worst seasons in Canadiens history? What astonishes me is that the team’s management has succeeded in lulling us into believing not making the playoffs can be considered a successful season. That’s exactly what Bergevin said on Monday: “Overall, I think we had a good season.”
It’s delusional thinking. Sorry to say, but there’s zero proof next year will be better. It will take a miracle to make the playoffs. If the Columbus Blue Jackets win tonight in New York against the sad-sack Rangers, it’s all over for the Habs. And if that’s the case, they will have missed the playoffs three of the last four seasons.
How to watch Canadiens at Capitals
Canadiens Jesperi Kotkaniemi tries to knock the puck away from Blue Jackets Josh Anderson on March 28, 2019, in Columbus, Ohio. Jay LaPrete / AP
And who knows if they’ll make the playoffs next year. Maybe the most distressing thing I see is how this team mismanages its talent. The Jonathan Drouin situation is a total spit-show. He is the team’s highest-paid forward and was billed as the first homegrown (non-goalie) star in decades. He has been in a mighty funk for months. He has points in only two of his last 25 games. So what does the old-school team of Bergevin and head coach Claude Julien do? They throw him on the third line, where he is guaranteed to remain in a scoring funk. Instead of dealing with the problem, they’re destroying his confidence.
NHL on NBCSN: Canadiens visit Capitals in pivotal game
And how do you like their development of Jesperi Kotkaniemi? They bench him a few games with the coach repeatedly saying the rookie is tired, which KotkaKid denies. Then, Julien moves him to the left wing on the fourth line, further confusing him.
The Canadiens aren’t rebuilding, possibly because they don’t want to fall into the Edmonton Oilers rebuilding trap. But if that’s the case, they should be competing and spending the millions in salary cap space they haven’t used for the past two seasons.
Bob Dylan, as he so often did, put it best all those years ago: “Failure’s no success at all.” So the Habs should pray for a miracle, but be ready to miss the playoffs and be big enough to admit it’s a failure.