NEW YORK – It might take some time for the Canadiens to get over Thursday night’s season-ending defeat at Madison Square Garden, but Michel Therrien’s troops can take comfort in the fact that they clearly defied the odds during the 2013-14 campaign, overcoming adversity time and again at key points in the year while making significant strides along the way.
After dropping a 1-0 decision to the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals that lifted the Blueshirts to a 4-2 series win, the Habs put on a brave face to reflect on a year that began eight months ago with somewhat limited expectations.
“It’s tough when you get this close, especially when you’re two wins away from reaching the final round. It’s going to sting for a while,” confessed a visibly disappointed Josh Gorges. “These opportunities don’t come around too much. I’ve been here once back in 2010. It took a few years to get back here. You never know when you’re going to get a chance. It’s disappointing that we’re not still playing.
“We couldn’t gain any traction during the game. We couldn’t get any momentum or any flow to our game. We were forcing things a bit too much. I think we passed up some opportunities to shoot the puck. We had some good looks and we didn’t shoot it,” added Gorges. “We had some chances, but New York was able to capitalize on theirs. There’s no real explanation as to why we couldn’t get anything going.”
P.K. Subban shared similar sentiments after seeing the Rangers advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1994 by stifling the Canadiens’ offensive creativity in a tilt that saw Alain Vigneault’s squad outshoot their opposition by a 32-18 margin and dictate the play from start to finish en route to the all-important win.
“It’s definitely not what we wanted. You have to give the Rangers credit. They did a lot of things right to win the series. At times, we did enough, but they were opportunistic in Game 6 and they scored a big goal. Then, they just shut the door,” offered Subban, whose 14 points in 17 playoff tilts led all Canadiens players during the postseason.
The reigning Norris Trophy winner, however, was quick to point out that lessons learned during a playoff run that lasted six weeks in length bode very well for the future of the franchise as a whole.
“What can we take away from this? A lot of positives, and plenty of experience for the younger guys, including myself,” confided Subban, who led all players on both teams once again on Thursday night by logging 27:04 of ice time in Game 6. “They’ll come to realize that it’s rare to be in this type of situation. You don’t get a lot of chances to play in a Conference Finals series for a chance to play for the Cup.
“I learned that it takes a lot of blocked shots, a lot of ice baths, a lot of hot baths and a lot of ice packs along the way. There are so many good things to take away from this run,” added the 25-year-old rearguard. “At the start of the year, few people expected us to make the playoffs and even more people didn’t think we’d be among the final four teams. We did a good job. We have a good group. The future is bright.”
Case in point was the play of goaltender Dustin Tokarski, who stepped up to the plate in the absence of starter Carey Price and provided the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge with one stellar performance after another in the infancy of his NHL career.
“For him to come into the situation that he was in, to rise up to the challenge and essentially blow all of us away…He played above his means,” praised Gorges, who, like his teammates, was in awe of the young netminder’s composure from the moment he entered the series against the Rangers in Game 2 in Montreal. “He should be very proud of what he did for this organization and for this team. He should hold his head high.”
As should the rest of the Canadiens coming off a season in which they registered their first 100-point regular season since 2007-08, eliminated both the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Presidents' Trophy winning Boston Bruins in back-to-back postseason series, and ultimately secured their second appearance in the Conference Finals in the last five years.
“The loss hurts. The further you move on, the more it hurts. There are 29 other teams that are disappointed at the end of the year, and only one celebrating,” admitted Therrien. “I’m proud of this team and what we’ve accomplished this year.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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