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Elimination leaves Canadiens stunned, disappointed

by Shawn P. Roarke / NHL.com

"We had the opportunity to do something special. It was a tough and difficult season all along. Nothing came easy for us this year. We battled to get in the playoffs and for it to end like this is definitely disappointing."
-- Mike Komisarek

The much-anticipated Centennial season for the Montreal Canadiens ended with a desultory thud Thursday night as Montreal was swept out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 4-1 loss to the hated Boston Bruins in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

The fact that Montreal was never in this series -- losing by a combined score of 17-6 -- just one year after winning the Eastern Conference regular-season title and sending this same Boston team home in the first round of the playoffs, is still hard for the Montreal players to understand.

"I’m so surprised it's done," said Chris Higgins, who had two of Montreal's six goals in the series. "For us, not playing hockey anymore is very, very strange."

It is always strange when Montreal is knocked out of the playoffs, as their 24 Stanley Cups are the most in history, by a country mile. But it is even stranger this season as Montreal spent much of the year basking in the glow cast by its 100th birthday celebration. This is an intensely proud organization with the history to back up the pride, so the players did not buy the suggestion in the wake of the sweep that perhaps expectations were too high.

"I don't think expectations are necessarily a bad thing," defenseman Mike Komisarek said. "We had the opportunity to do something special. It was a tough and difficult season all along. Nothing came easy for us this year. We battled to get in the playoffs and for it to end like this is definitely disappointing."

Things looked so good at the start of this season. The Canadiens were built to win now. Most of the 2008 Eastern Conference-winning squad was back and some key deficiencies were addressed. And for much of the first half of the season, Montreal once again sat atop the NHL standings table.

When the hockey world arrived in Montreal for the All-Star game in late January, many surmised there was a good chance they would be back in mid-June for The Stanley Cup Final.

But things went terribly wrong in the second half. Young hot-shot goalie Carey Price, hailed as a hero last season as a rookie, struggled through a vicious sophomore slump and got worse as the season progressed. He was booed and jeered by the home fans in Wednesday night's loss.

The team also suffered through a stunning spate of injuries. At various points they lost Alex Tanguay and Robert Lang, two of the team's top forwards, and top defensemen Andrei Markov and Mathieu Schneider. Markov and Lang never dressed in the playoffs, while Schneider and Tanguay gave it a go, but were not around after Game 2.

Again, Komisarek said there are no excuses, even though Montreal lost a combined 176 regular-season points when those four players were bounced from the postseason fray

"Injuries are part of what we do and I've always said the only game you play at 100 percent is the first one," he said. "If you're good enough to tie your skates, you're good enough to help the team and get in there and contribute. Injuries are never an excuse."

Captain Saku Koivu said the end result is a bitter pill to swallow. Koivu, in his 11th season with the club, is one of 10 unrestricted free agents on this team that may not be back next season.

"It’s an empty feeling," Koivu said. "Whenever you lose the last game of the playoffs, you don’t want to be in that situation. It always takes a little bit of time for that idea to sink in and to realize there's no more hockey tomorrow or the next day."
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