Stubbs: No shame in Canadiens’ elimination


Team gave its rabid fans a playoff run they can be proud of

Canadiens forward Thomas Vanek battles defenceman Ryan McDonagh for position in front of the Rangers net during Game 6 of the Eastern final in New York.

Canadiens forward Thomas Vanek battles defenceman Ryan McDonagh for position in front of the Rangers net during Game 6 of the Eastern final in New York.

Photograph by: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images

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NEW YORK -- The end for the Canadiens came in their 17th playoff game, the deepest they've gone in the postseason since their memorable 19-game, three-round run in 2010.

It came as a dagger in the hearts of Habs fans, this 99th game of the season, 82 on the schedule and 17 more; the population of a city, a province and a great many more believed that this, somehow, was a team coloured by destiny.

On Friday, Montreal will exhale deeply and realize that hockey is done for four months, in a town where fans insist it be played 13 months a year. And in two days it will be June.

The New York Rangers' 1-0 victory over the Canadiens at Madison Square Garden Thursday night sends the Blueshirts into the Stanley Cup final against either Los Angeles or Chicago.

And it sends the Habs to their Brossard training centre to empty their lockers, say their goodbyes and fan out in many different directions.

The Rangers will speak to you about destiny, too. It has been 20 years since their last trip to the 1994 Stanley Cup final, a series they won in seven games over the Vancouver Canucks.

In the end, singer Corey Hart could have kept his farewell Bell Centre birthday concert, scheduled for Saturday but moved to Tuesday when it seemed the Canadiens might have needed the arena for Game 7 against the Rangers.

A little to the northeast, Ginette Reno can perform as planned Saturday at Place des Arts, without having to break stride for a simulcast O Canada that was to begin the sudden-death match.

There is no shame in the Canadiens' elimination, a team that played all but two periods of the Eastern Conference final without star goaltender Carey Price.

It was Price on whose back that for much of the regular season, and 11 playoff games against Tampa Bay and Boston, the Canadiens thrived.

Finally, the Rangers nailed down this series and avoided the danger of bringing it back to the Bell Centre madhouse for a winner-take-all match.

It was a 21-game 2009-10 Canadien, Dominic Moore, who authored the end, left alone in front of terrific young Montreal goalie Dustin Tokarski to slam home his third goal of the playoffs at 18:07 of the second period.

And that's all the Rangers needed.

Tokarski would make 31 saves, Lundqvist rarely tested severely at the other end recorded 18 stops for the shutout.

"I'm proud, and everybody is proud of how they competed," said Tokarski, a 24-year-old playoff revelation. "But it's still bitter and it sucks right now."

Still, he said with an eye to the future, "Being in the playoffs is the best way to learn how to win."

The Canadiens had two players sidelined for the final game, both Dale Weise and Alexei Emelin missing with what coach Michel Therrien playoff-typically called "body injuries."

The cone of silence dropped over even a nicked cuticle at this time of year is ridiculous, but this took the art form to new heights.

Emelin missed the Canadiens' final two games with an injury of a nature that perhaps even he hasn't been told. We might learn about it in the team's season-end debriefing.

Weise, meanwhile, seemed to be out with a concussion or symptoms thereof, but no one was talking.

The forward was hit hard twice in Game 5 on Tuesday, both times by now-suspended John Moore.

The first came 11:48 into the first period, Weise bounced hard off the curved glass at the end of a bench.

Then came the vicious blindside shoulder/elbow at 10:41 of the third that dropped Weise like a stone, leaving him woozy and unable, at first, to skate away on his own. Moore was given a match penalty and the next day was suspended two games for the head shot.

Moore will miss Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, and in the days ahead we should learn more about Weise, how it was that he returned to Game 5, and the shopping list of injuries that plagued his teammates.

So the Canadiens will pack up having come within two games of a Stanley Cup final; it would have been their first since 1993, when they won their 24th and most recent title.

If the seven-game Eastern semifinal against Boston was blood-boiling, off-the-charts intense hockey, six games against the Rangers was often good action but much, much better theatre off the ice with all the sniping, charges and countercharges, a pair of suspensions, the espionage.

Former Canadiens coach Alain Vigneault advances to his second Stanley Cup final in his first season behind the Rangers bench, doing a great deal to rinse the bitter taste of the John Tortorella era out of New York fans' mouths.

It's a fascinating thing to cover a hockey team day in and day out, witnessing the dynamic ebb and flow with wins and losses, injuries and slumps.

In the end, it's a game played by human beings, a fact lost on the fans who demand 100-per-cent from every player, on every shift of every game.

After a 7-4 Game 5 circus act in Montreal, the series was decided by a single goal. The unpredictability of hockey, and those who play it, is what makes it so compelling.

Captain Brian Gionta was 24, in his second season in the NHL, when he won his Stanley Cup in 2003 with the New Jersey Devils. Now, the inspirational five-year Canadien is one of seven players who will be an unrestricted free-agent come July 1.

The team that skated off MSG ice won't be the same club that returns for training camp in September. At least a handful on this roster won't be back.

Gionta and defenceman Andrei Markov lead the list of players who could leave, joined by forwards Thomas Vanek and George Parros and rearguards Francis Bouillon, Douglas Murray and Mike Weaver.

Personnel moves will be plotted in the weeks ahead by general manager Marc Bergevin, who has assembled a fine hockey operations department under team owner Geoff Molson and has charted a robust future for a team that not so long ago seemed rudderless, a ship turning slow circles at sea.

But a promising future will do little to soothe the pain of Canadiens fans now, the day dawning without a meaningful hockey game to be played until October.

For many, that will seem a lifetime.

Twitter: Dave_Stubbs

Canadiens forward Thomas Vanek battles defenceman Ryan McDonagh for position in front of the Rangers net during Game 6 of the Eastern final in New York.

Canadiens forward Thomas Vanek battles defenceman Ryan McDonagh for position in front of the Rangers net during Game 6 of the Eastern final in New York.

Photograph by: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images

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