NEW YORK - The Canadiens had high hopes entering the postseason, but things didn't work out as planned.
On Saturday night, Claude Julien's troops saw their 2016-17 campaign officially come to a close after suffering a 3-1 season-ending defeat to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. That gave the Blueshirts a 4-2 first-round series win, eliminating the Habs in the process.
Video: R1, Gm6: Canadiens @ Rangers
There was no denying the sense of disappointment inside the locker room following the loss. This one hurt, especially after the Canadiens managed to secure their second Atlantic Division title in three years on the strength of a 47-26-9 regular-season record and 103 points - the fourth-highest point total in the NHL.
"We're very upset. We have a great team in here. We had a great opportunity to do a lot this year, and it definitely feels like a wasted opportunity," said captain Max Pacioretty, who amassed just a single point in the series - an assist in Game 2. "There's some adversity we have to deal with as a team and individually. Hopefully, in the long run it makes us better."
Over the last week-and-a-half, the Canadiens' primary source of adversity was Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The former Vezina Trophy winner was simply brilliant between the pipes, essentially going save for save with Carey Price and frustrating shooters time and again when it looked like they might finally solve him.
"We couldn't get to Henrik. That's the bottom line," said Alexander Radulov, who led the Canadiens with seven points in the series. "It's hard to win when you score one goal. We couldn't get that bounce."
Video: Pacioretty on the disappointment of being eliminated
In his postgame press conference, Julien pointed to the Swedish netminder's remarkable play as well when asked about where things went wrong for his club.
"We faced a goaltender that was without a doubt their best player. We just couldn't manage to get those goals," explained Julien. "It wasn't a matter of not trying. If you look at those scoring chances, we probably had more than them, but they got more out of theirs."
They certainly did, which is why the Canadiens now find themselves in the unenviable position of being forced to watch other teams fight on to secure hockey's top prize. That's a particularly tough pill to swallow right now given what they believed they were truly capable of as the season went on.
Video: Gallagher on being eliminated in New York
"We had great chemistry this season. We had a lot of fun playing this year. Even throughout the series, we had confidence the whole way through," said Price, who made 21 saves on Saturday night. "It's a bitter disappointment."
Brendan Gallagher echoed Price's frustration.
"I felt like this was our best chance that we've had. I like this team so much. I like what we brought to the lineup. We just didn't get the job done," said Gallagher, who scored a goal and added two assists in six playoff outings. "I love the group that we have in here. It's just tough right now."
Video: Claude Julien's postgame press conference
It will be for some time, obviously, but there's always next year, as far off as it may seem at the moment.
"Everyone worked hard and played with heart. Sometimes, it happens. But, if you want to win a hockey game in the playoffs, you have to play a strong 60. That's what it comes down to in the end," concluded Radulov. "It's not good that we have to wait another year for that run. Life's going to go on, and we have to make sure that we learn from it."