The Habs are dead. Long live the Habs.
Our team went down swinging last night, and even though it hurts, the players who matter for the Canadiens' future gave everything they had to change the outcome. There's so much to regret: WHY couldn't they hold a 3-1 lead in Game Four? WHY couldn't they score even once in three overtimes? WHY did Gomez have to suck so badly? Still, though, there's so much more about which to be proud.
P.K.Subban has probably saved Trevor Timmins. Despite all the lousy first-round picks to which Timmins has committed, he managed to find a legitimate NHL number-one D in the mid-second round. Not just any number-one D, either. Subban has the offensive ability to break open a game (or score a vital tying goal with less than two minutes to go in a Game Seven), but at 21 years of age, he's also developing on defense by leaps and bounds. He was the most-played and arguably the most effective defenseman in the series against Boston, including Norris-nominee Zdeno Chara. On top of his skills, the mental strength this kid possesses is extremely impressive. After all the criticism he's received from two-bit cheap opponents, so-called media experts and fans, one might excuse a kid his age for fighting back. One could even understand if he decided to take an on-ice jab at someone who's been particularly in his face. He didn't, though. Subban played a very disciplined, controlled series worthy of a player much older. He's a gem.
Carey Price faced more pressure than any other player in the NHL this year. He took over the Habs net in the wake of the Jaro Halak trade, after having a lousy season both mentally and in results last year. It didn't look good for him when he heard boos in the very first pre-season game at the Bell Centre. Somehow, Price took that negativity and erased it with confident, steady play all year long. He gave his team every chance to win in the regular season and continued that into the playoffs. If anyone tries to blame the series loss on him, they're blind.
Tomas Plekanec said last summer he found it disappointing that fans didn't understand the role he played in last year's playoffs. Jacques Martin asked him to put aside his focus on offence and concentrate on shutting down the other team's best scorers instead. In two rounds, Plekanec helped corral Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby and kept them from making a huge difference in those series. Similarly, this year, he contained the Bs'number-one centre in David Krejci. Plekanec tallied five points in seven games, while Krejci logged just one goal. Pleks also played a big part in the Canadiens perfect PK during the series, including notching a gorgeous shorthanded goal. He played a large portion of the season with absent or underachieving linemates, and still maintained his solid two-way game. He's a keeper.
Lars Eller showed flashes of better-than-decent play during the regular season, but in the playoffs he became a different guy. He was fast, aggressive and a giant pain in the Bruins' collective butt. Given linemates with any kind of offensive ability at all, Eller will be a really good centreman in the NHL. Perhaps the most promising thing about his playoffs, though, is the fact that he suffered a significant shoulder injury in Game Six, but played through it with the stoicism of a person who gets it. He knows what you have to do to win in the playoffs and he's prepared to do it.
Michael Cammalleri has proven himself, again, to be a playoff beast. Emerging from a less-than-impressive season, Cammalleri hit the post-season with everything he had. He'll get criticism for not being great defensively, but that's not his job. He's competent defensively most of the time, but he's excellent when it comes to producing vital points. Having lead the league in playoff goals last year, he's bowing out this season with ten points in seven games, tops in playoff scoring. Cammalleri isn't the kind of player who can do it all at both ends of the ice, but when it comes to compete level and the ability to bear down and produce under pressure, he's your man.
These were the players who made a difference in these playoffs, and the good news is they're all young and able to return in the fall to form a pretty decent core of talent.
Lots of the guys whose futures are less certain deserve some respect this year as well. The Old Guards, Gill, Spacek, Hamrlik, Mara and Sopel all tried their damnedest. They were thrust into positions of responsibility for which they weren't suited, but they performed as well as they could despite fatigue and injury. That's something of which to be proud in our team.
The heart displayed by guys like Tom Pyatt, Ryan White (in his limited minutes) and David Desharnais (before blowing out his knee) was also a source of pride.
I'm proud of the way the team battled through the adversity of losing players important both on the ice and in the room, and I'm proud of the way the coaching staff and team veterans held the steady course all year. Most of all, I'm proud of the dignity with which the team carried itself.
I had an email from a reader last night, expressing his discouragement with the way the NHL has become a cheap-shot league. I explained to him I stick with the Habs because they've held themselves above all that. They don't give the other team's fans the finger, then lie about it. They don't make disparaging comments about their opponents. They don't take cheap shots on the ice. The Habs are better and classier than the NHL norm, and that's something about which to be proud.
One has to believe that the odds will balance out and the Canadiens may actually be able to keep the heart of their team in the lineup next year. If they do, they'll be back in the playoffs with all the determination and heart they showed the last two seasons. With a little luck and a little health, we may see better results.
The Habs are dead. Long live the Habs.