TAMPA – There’s a reason only four teams in NHL history have ever erased a three-game deficit to win a series.
The 2014-15 Canadiens had already made history prior to puck drop on Tuesday night after becoming the first group of Habs to ever force a Game 6 when trailing a series 0-3. Having already staved off elimination twice to earn a return trip to Tampa, the Habs needed to string together another pair of wins to keep the season alive. Getting outshot by the Lightning for the first time in the series, 28-19, and losing 4-1 in Game 6, playing non-stop do-or-die hockey finally caught up to the team after spotting the Lightning a three-game lead.
“Everybody in here wanted to continue playing, but that’s the playoffs. They give you seven total opportunities to win a series and it’s the first team to four games. They got to four before we could,” said P.K. Subban, who led the Canadiens in postseason point production for a third-straight spring. “We showed a lot of character after losing 0-3 to bring the series to a point where we had an opportunity to take it, but at the same token, I don’t think anybody will be satisfied. Our goal was to win the Stanley Cup and we didn’t. When you’re down 3-0 there’s no room for error and you definitely can’t play a bad game. Tonight, we didn’t play well enough.”
In addition to holding the Habs to their lowest shot count of the postseason on Tuesday, the Lightning also out-hit the Canadiens 33-22 to help punch their ticket to the Conference finals for the third time in franchise history. After watching his team play a third elimination game in less than a week, head coach Michel Therrien wasn’t as disappointed in his team’s Game 6 effort as he was with the unenviable position they were in even prior to puck drop.
“We didn’t lose the series tonight. I think in Game 1, we deserved a better fate and it was the same thing in Game 3,” described Therrien of the double overtime loss to open the series and the heart-breaking, buzzer-beating goal in Game 3 that put Tampa in the driver’s seat. “The Lightning deserve credit. They played their best game of the series tonight. It’s tough to evaluate right now, but it feels like physically and mentally we were drained.”
In a season that saw the Canadiens lead the league in goals-against per game, finish with 50 wins for the first time since 1988-89 and earn a division title, Tuesday’s loss was a difficult one for the players to digest given what the group had accomplished through 94 games.
“We had a lot of fun all season long. It’s hard to choke down and look back on that in this moment,” admitted Carey Price, who placed the blame for the series loss on his own shoulders, despite allowing two or fewer goals in four of the six Conference semifinal games. “I thought we played well enough to win the series. I thought we played well enough to win in each game, except the one we got blown out in [in Game 2], but it didn’t go our way. I didn’t come up with a couple of saves I needed to make to give us that opportunity.”
With the wound still fresh immediately following Tuesday’s game, the Habs haven’t had time to reflect on some of the positives they can take with them into the offseason. Coming into the year with a new leadership group at the helm, with Subban, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, and Andrei Markov sharing alternate captain duties, the Habs laid the foundation for the future of the franchise in 2014-15. With the team’s All-Stars coming into their primes and the young stars gaining valuable experience along the way, the Canadiens still have plenty of room to grow despite having just finished their best season in over two-and-a-half decades.
“It was a great group to be around. It was a lot of fun – overcoming adversity, proving a lot of people wrong. We were able to accomplish a lot, but we all had one goal in mind and we fell short,” shared Pacioretty, who led the team with five goals in the postseason. “I know that down the road these are experiences that are going to make us all better.
“The core group of guys has been together for a while,” he continued. “Three years ago in the playoffs was obviously tough, losing in five [to Ottawa]. Last year we had a lot of success and this year we had an opportunity to do even better and we fell short. It’s hard to pinpoint what we learned, but I think as the summer goes on and the years go on, we’ll realize these were great experiences.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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