Thursday, 9 May 2013

Round 1, Game 5: Canadiens 1, Senators 6

Well, I didn't say it out loud, but I wasn't expecting much.  A week ago I announced I was organizing a hockey party at our hall, with a pre-game street hockey game, followed by Canadiens-Sens, then Canucks-Sharks.  I pulled the plug on Tuesday, explaining that with the Canucks out it didn't make much sense to carry on, but really I just didn't want to celebrate our elimination.

And it was indeed a bitter night.  Kind of like a condemned man's last meal, we couldn't enjoy it, and didn't really get to choose the menu anyhow, we were the geese and a sour mash of Chris Neil and Chris Phillips was about to be jammed down our throat with a funnel, our collective liver be damned.

Those fans who were clamouring for Peter Budaj got their wish, and we can hope on this subject they'll now mercifully be quiet.  The poor guy didn't deliver, but he's absolved of blame, it was a team loss, a series loss, not the matter of one game.  We were off our game since we won in Boston and lost Alexei Emelin.  Someone pulled back the curtain and the magic was lost.  Carey Price lost it, our three scoring lines lost it, Andrei Markov lost it, even P.K. slowed down and sometimes lost focus.  We didn't have the horses, didn't have the depth, Hamilton wasn't an armory we could draw from.

We were overwhelmed by the physicality of the Senators, which is surprising, since we dreaded the Bruins or Leafs more in that regard.  Not firing on all cylinders, with a shaky goaltender, a suddenly impotent powerplay, and complacent refereeing, we never had a chance against the bigger Sens.  When we tried to fight fire with fire we were slapped down.  The toughness that was supposed to come from the Prust-Moen-White triumvirate, assisted by Francis Bouillon and Colby Armstrong, proved to be no match to a plethora of facewashing defencemen 6'3" and over, and the flagrant transgressions of Chris Neil.  We couldn't beat them on the ice, and certainly couldn't beat them in the alley.

In a way, there are a lot of positives that we can take into next season.  Carey Price, despite his plummeting performance and season-ending injury, is a solid piece to build around.  P.K. Subban isn't Raymond Bourque or Chris Chelios yet, but his improvement since last season's training camp is astounding.  Lars Eller keeps showing signs that he's about to reach the summit.  Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher will be able to build on excellent rookie seasons.  Brandon Prust is a warrior and team leader who can play on any team in the league.

Yet we have a lot of questions too.  Some of them of the existential type.  One of them: do we take the St. Louis Blues or Los Angeles Kings road, and choose to go with size at all costs?  What does this mean for our current lineup, veterans like Tomas Plekanec or team captain Brian Gionta?  Do we make a decision that, as good a defenceman as he is, and as promising a season as he had, a defenceman like Raphaël Diaz cannot play in the NHL?

What about our skilled guys in Hamilton, or those yet to come?  If we decide to go with size, what do we do with Danny Kristo, Charles Hudon, Sebastian Collberg, Louis Leblanc, Michaël Bournival?  What do we do at the draft?  Do we pass up on Mike Bossy to draft Dwight Foster, every time?

It may be too soon to worry about these questions, but they've been at the forefront for the last few days, another indication that we knew we weren't too long for this world.  The boys battled hard, but depleted, weakened by injuries, it wasn't enough.

We have to tip our hat to the management team and the players who transformed last season's toxic climate, and changed our team from a laughingstock to one that battled for the President's Trophy, no small feat.  It was an exciting season to watch games, one that showcased grit and heart and skill and wins, and as a fan, it's hard to find fault with that.

Nice work guys, rest up, enjoy your off-season a little, then hit the gym and start getting ready for September.

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