History was made
With the table set for a David vs. Goliath showdown with the President's Trophy winners in Round 1, the story line read exactly as it was supposed to for the first few games of the playoffs. But after falling behind 3-1 and appearing to be just 60 minutes from the offseason, the underdog Habs pulled off an historic comeback in seven games, becoming the first No. 8 seed to ever erase a 3-1 deficit and move on to Round 2.
Then came the encore. One round later, it was a different city and a different opponent, but the same formula worked yet again: climb out of a 3-2 hole against the defending Stanley Cup champs, shut out more of the NHL's biggest superstars and enjoy a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 17 years.
"You start believing what you can be capable of and with the two opponents we were able to beat earlier, you feel like you can really make a special year out of it," admitted Michael Cammalleri, who made the most of his springtime debut in Montreal with an NHL-high 13 goals this postseason. "It's still an empty feeling because you only get so many years to do this and you're not in the Eastern Conference Finals every year so it feels a little like an opportunity wasted."
While Jaroslav Halak could be content with the staggering 497 saves he made over the past few weeks, after Game 5 the Slovakian netminder was more focused on the one that got away.
"It's hard. It's hard to find words. What do you want me to say? It sucks," stated Halak. "That's hockey - only one team can go to the finals and that's it. We were down in the first series; we came back. We were down in the second series; we came back. Unfortunately we couldn't do it now. It's hard but that's the way it is. We showed a lot of character during the playoffs and it came down to four teams."
That's still three teams too many for Scott Gomez.
"It's a disappointment and it should be," underlined Gomez, who came just seven wins shy of adding a third Cup ring to his collection this spring. "We'll be thinking about it all summer. As an organization with a lot of young guys, they took a huge step and learned what it takes but we wanted to go to the Finals and we fell short.
"We definitely wanted to play more," added Gomez, who chipped in with a goal and an assist in his team's last stand in Philly. "We knew what we had in this room and we overcame a lot and took a right direction for the organization but I don't think anyone is satisfied and they shouldn't be."
With the wounds still raw from the Game 5 loss, Josh Gorges was still able to find a silver lining from the Canadiens' dramatic run this postseason.
"It's the same feeling losing out in the first round and losing out now," confessed Gorges. "We did a lot of great things and I'm proud of this group and we made a lot of steps in the right direction in building this team for the future but it hurts. Losing is never easy."
The bitter taste will admittedly linger in Cammalleri's mouth for longer than he'd like after seeing the deepest postseason run of his career cut short. But the Habs' sniper is already looking for ways to trade in that flavor for sweet champagne next year.
"I think I'd say it was a special year for a bunch of guys to come together and maybe play better than people thought that we were capable of and I guess maybe it was a little bit of a building block for some of us who hope to be here for a while," professed Cammalleri. "Some special bonds have formed here."
Proving people wrong and turning skeptics into believers tends to have that effect.
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
The Numbers Game - May 24, 2010