PHILADELPHIA – The Habs aren’t ready to call it a season just yet.
Sitting 13 points back of the eighth-place Sabres with just six games left to play, the Canadiens were officially eliminated from the playoff race following Saturday’s loss to the Flyers. They may not be battling for a coveted spot in the postseason anymore, but that doesn’t mean they have nothing to play for down the stretch.
“We still have to get up for every game and try to be the best we can every night,” shared Peter Budaj, who stopped 29 of the 33 shots he faced against Philadelphia. “We have a lot of pride for the sweater, for the team, for the organization and for the fans. We had a big game last night and we had a big win and tonight we got a little bit outplayed by Philly. It’s been a tough season but the season is still going. We have a couple games left and we have to be ready for them.”
Dropping the gloves six times in 19 games since returning from offseason surgery in February, Ryan White isn’t accustomed to going down without a fight. The 12 points still available to the Habs won’t get the team any closer to their ultimate goal but White won’t let that stop him from doing what he can to help earn as many of those as possible.
“You play all season to make it to the playoffs and have a chance to win the Cup and that’s the worst thing about it – that we don’t have a chance to win the Cup this year,” admitted White, who has never missed the playoffs as a member of the Canadiens. “It’s frustrating, for sure. It’s been a tough season. Obviously we didn’t get accomplished what we wanted to.
“We’re going to have to come back with a chip on our shoulder next year,” added the gritty winger. “It’s frustrating. We got behind the 8-Ball at the start of the season and it’s tough climbing an uphill battle and we just didn’t do a good enough job again tonight. That’s been the story of our season.”
No stat from Saturday’s game was more telling of the adversity the Habs have faced this season than the 3,509 combined games of NHL experience the team had watching from the sidelines. With veterans Tomas Kaberle, Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Travis Moen and Mathieu Darche all out with injuries, the Canadiens saw their man games lost total jump to a league-high 388 this year.
“We all know injuries have been a big part of our season this year but it’s not an excuse – we just weren’t good enough,” stressed Tomas Plekanec, who missed just one game due to injury this year. “Injuries affect everyone and every team goes through them. It’s just the way it was.
“It’s not an easy thing. It would be great, not just for myself but for everybody to have just one line on a constant basis,” added the Czech pivot, who has played with 11 different wingers since the start of the campaign. “You see that on Davey’s line. They’ve been playing together for I don’t even know how many games and you can see it out there. That was the story for this year and hopefully we can find a way to stay out of the clinic room next year and find a way to have a good, regular lineup.”
With a half-dozen games still on the schedule before the season closes on April 7, White and his teammates are planning to take the next few weeks to start setting the tone for the future.
“This is a year we’re going to look back on and hopefully learn from it,” promised White. “We’re going to remember these feelings when you’re not in the mix and you’re not getting a chance to win the Cup. It’s a tough situation but you have to learn from it and keep moving forward.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
Words from the room
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