The Habs showed up to their practice facility on the South Shore for the final time of the 2018-19 season to meet with team management, clear out their lockers, and address the media before heading off into summer.
Disappointment over not making the playoffs for a second straight season was certainly palpable, but the Canadiens still had plenty of reasons to look back on this season with fondness and pride.
"We came a long way from last year, we did better than a lot of people expected us to do and obviously we're not so happy with being out of the playoffs," said Victor Mete, who paired up with captain Shea Weber on the backend for the bulk of his sophomore campaign. "But overall, we're happy with our performance this season."
Video: Mete on the Habs beating expectations this season
Of course, a big reason for the Habs' 96-point result was their chemistry on and off the ice, which started with Mete's D partner and mentor.
"I think it was a great group. I think everyone knows how tight we were and how much fun we were having this year," explained Weber, who was named the team's 30th captain at the start of the season. "I think when you're doing things right and you're playing the right way and you're being successful, it brings joy to everyone and guys enjoy coming to the rink and playing hockey. I think we had a lot of fun this year."
Video: Shea Weber on the team's attitude
Despite being on the outside looking in, there were plenty of success stories emanating from the Canadiens locker room this season. Take Tomas Tatar, for example: the Slovakian winger was coming off one of the worst offensive seasons of his career when he arrived in Montreal and answered by setting new personal bests for assists (33), points (58), and differential (plus-21).
For the four-time 20-goal-scorer, the support being bandied about the room was a major contributor towards the individual and collective results achieved by this edition of the team.
"We were all battling for each other and we were helping each other and I think that's why we had so many guys who had a career year or career highs," shared Tatar, one of at least 14 players to set new career highs in 2018-19. "It just shows the character in the locker room."
Video: Tomas Tatar on his first season in Montreal
Tatar took the opportunity to rave about his new hockey home, putting to bed any doubts about whether high-end talent might be hesitant about joining the Habs because of the pressure and attention that come with the territory,
"Honestly, if somebody would ask me I could only say positive things. I think media were nice to us, fans were great. Nothing comes to mind why unrestricted free agents shouldn't come here," he described. "They would really enjoy the hockey Club and everybody's interest in hockey here. The players who played against us this year can say we're a fast team and a really young team too, so there's a future here for sure."
Fellow newcomer Max Domi is even further proof of the kind of positive effect Montreal can have on a hockey player. The son of former Maple Leafs enforcer Tie Domi finished first in team scoring with a career-high 72 points (28G, 44A) and could not stop gushing about his first year in the city - the first of many, he hopes.
"I'm extremely proud to be a part of this organization. This is the best franchise in all of sports. To wear that jersey and represent this city and this fan base on a daily basis is something that I definitely don't take for granted. It's something I enjoyed very much. And the the teammates I got to share it with this year were pretty special too, so it was fun," he shared. "I really, really enjoyed it, coming to work every day and having fun. And playing in front of those fans at the Bell Centre is something that you really can't put into words until you experience it. It was awesome. I really enjoyed being a Hab and I hope I can be a Hab for life."
Video: Max Domi on his first season in Montreal
Having just completed his seventh season in bleu-blanc-rouge, alternate captain Brendan Gallagher knows fully well what Domi means about the Canadiens experience. But for him, that also means that despite celebrating all the positives, the Habs must still recognize that they came up short when all was said and done.
"It doesn't matter how far you go or how early your season ends. You have the same feeling talking to [the media] until ultimately you can say you succeeded. The reason we play this game is to be winners. It's a very competitive League," outlined Gallagher, who hit the 30-goal mark for the second time in a row this season. "I've got a lot of belief in the people running this organization and the players we have in this locker room that that is the goal. That's always the goal when you play for the Montreal Canadiens. And that's something that we're all working towards."
Video: Brendan Gallagher on the Habs' work ethic in 2018-19
With bright young stars like Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Ryan Poehling, Mete, and more poised to take on bigger roles supporting the likes of Domi, Gallagher, Weber, et al. moving forward, that goal seems to feel like it's more attainable and not all that far off in the distance.
But for now, as Jeff Petry put it, the Canadiens will have to take a snapshot of the feeling of missing the big dance and keep it in a safe place so they can pull it out for motivation whenever necessary.
"To be honest with you, this one hurts more than last year, knowing that you aren't going to make the playoffs pretty early on. This one, we were fighting there to the end and just missing by a couple of points. For everyone in here, we know this feeling," he concluded. "We're going to take some time off and when it's time to get back to work, you're going to remember this feeling and just use that to prepare for for next year."
Is it October yet?