Two former Canadiens filled the entire front page of Friday’s New York Post, the screaming headline PUCK YEAH! across the top, “Now for the Cup” at the bottom.
Lower left, bright eyed and teeth gritted, was Dominic Moore, the 21-game Canadien in 2009-10 who an instant before had scored what would be the game-winner, the only goal in the Rangers’ 1-0 Game 6 victory over the Canadiens.
Dominating the page, screaming with joy, his arms over his head, was Ryan McDonagh, who via Brian Boyle helped set up Moore for the goal that would be all Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist would need.
McDonagh, of course, is the stud-to-be packaged on June 30, 2009 by then-Canadiens GM Bob Gainey in a six-player trade that brought centre Scott Gomez to Montreal for winger Christopher Higgins.
There must be a statute of limitations on Canadiens fans bemoaning the surrender of who then was a prospect, if a highly touted one. But in the immediate aftermath of the Habs’ elimination from the playoffs, and the dominant performance of McDonagh in them, that time is not now.
McDonagh, of course, is the defenceman who in Game 6 played a team-high 25:27, and who had two goals and eight assists in the series vs. the Habs; he’s the first Rangers rearguard in franchise history to rack up eight assists in a series.
STANLEY STEAMERS is how the Post headlined its game story inside.
The New York Daily News was a little more understated in its Friday celebration of the Rangers’ advance to their first Stanley Cup final in two decades.
“We want the Cup!” it said loudly, without upper-case shouting, in the upper left of its front page, a similar photo of a celebrating McDonagh accompanying it. The lead story was $2B BIGOT!, announcing the $2-billion sale price of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers that reportedly will be paid to racially intolerant owner Donald Sterling.
But the Daily News did have an arms-spread photo of goalie Henrik Lundqvist filling its back page, in effect its Sports front, with the banner head: FINALLY!
(Not nearly as much fun for Habs fans as the Boston Herald headline BUMMER, the B fashioned from the Bruins’ spoked-B logo, used at the end of that series.)
The Canadiens’ college try against the Rangers came up a few rah-rahs short Thursday, Moore’s goal being all the Rangers needed to send the Habs packing.
So it was that the Canadiens flew home very early Friday morning. Not to prepare for Game 7 at the Bell Centre, but to take a day to gather their thoughts before assembling in Brossard Saturday morning to clean out their lockers and meet the media one final time this season.
If you rewind to Laval-sur-le-Lac Golf Club last September, training camp about to begin, general manager Marc Bergevin was speaking about the challenge of just making the playoffs in a 30-team NHL. Chemistry, injuries and the flight or plight of other teams were all part of that equation.
The Canadiens would sweep Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference quarter-finals, then go the seven-game distance with Boston in the semis, bouncing the NHL’s best club in the regular season.
The six-game loss to the Rangers, leaving the Habs two games short of their first Cup final berth since 1993, will be under the microscope until the start of the 2014-15 season, and probably longer than that.
But there can be no one in the Canadiens organization, or no sensibly thinking fan, who can call this past season a disappointment. Not with the promise apparent and even the flashes of brilliance shown — if not on Thursday — that hint at a bright future for this franchise.
“It’s not what we wanted, but obviously there are lot of positives coming out of this,” said defenceman P.K. Subban, whose focus soon will shift to his contract talks.
“A lot of experience for young guys, including myself. We are going to find out that it’s rare to be in this situation. Not many guys get to experience playing in a conference final and having an opportunity to play in the Stanley Cup final. We were two wins away from being there. It’s not a very good feeling right now, but there is a lot for us to learn.”
Twice in the past five years, the Canadiens have advanced to the Eastern final. Both times, Subban has been a key part of the drive.
“What do you learn?” he asked. “How hard it is to get here. A lot of blocked shots, a lot of ice tubs, cold tubs and ice bags, but there are so many positives coming out of this.
“At the start of the year, nobody expected us to make the playoffs, let alone be in the final four teams. We have done a lot of great things. We have a good core group here, a bright future.”
Forward Max Pacioretty spoke of how well the Canadiens played vs. Tampa Bay and Boston, and how the effort against the Rangers was “definitely a letdown.”
“It’s really tough right now,” Pacioretty added. “We were so close. If we had won this game, it would have been tough for them to beat us in our building. It’s a bad feeling now. It’s tough to be proud right now.”
There were injuries up and down the Canadiens roster, as there are on every team at this time of the season, though coach Michel Therrien wasn’t getting into specifics at first blush of the off-season.
A medical report, perhaps a startling one, could be offered on Saturday.
“It’s really tough for tonight talking about the entire season because I know what it’s like when you get close to achieving a goal,” Therrien said Thursday.
“It hurts more when you’re close. There are going to be 29 teams this year that are going to be disappointed. … But I’ve got to look around the season and we made some big progress this year.
“I’m proud of this team. We battled hard through the regular season and we battled hard in the playoffs.”
There was the revelation of goalie Dustin Tokarski, who played Games 2-6 when No. 1 Carey Price went down with a second-period knee injury in Game 1.
“It might take a little while,” Tokarski said, asked to review his maiden voyage through the NHL playoffs. “Right now it’s tough. You’re thinking about what could have been.
“It was a fun series. It was great to be a part of it. Hopefully, I can get back here again one day.”
You would think, given the 24-year-old’s performance, that this would be a given.
But for a few days, not too many Canadiens will be looking too far forward. It’s going to take a bit of time for their bruises to heal, both on the skin and on their insides.
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