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Canadiens try to end season on positive note

Montreal, eliminated from playoffs, has six games remaining

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

MONTREAL -- The temporary tattoo of Goofy at the base of Max Pacioretty's left thumb, applied there hours earlier by the Montreal Canadiens captain's son, was a souvenir of Easter weekend fun. It wasn't a child's editorial comment about the Canadiens season.

"Enzo put it there to give me a smile on game day," Pacioretty said with a tight grin of his 2-year-old.

It might have been the last bright moment in the captain's day. The Canadiens were mathematically eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers at Bell Centre on Saturday.

The Canadiens rumbling toward this cliff was a surprise to no one. But it was on this night their fractional chance of qualifying for the postseason rolled over to zero with six games left on the schedule before they pack up for the summer and the difficult autopsy begins in management suites.

Video: NYR@MTL: Kreider gives the Rangers a three-goal lead

"Everyone in this room, you can look around and check every nameplate, has a significant something to play for the rest of the year," Pacioretty said following his team's 36th regulation loss, already 14 more than last season and dangerously close to the franchise record of 40. "Whether it's contract, trying to stay with the big club, trying to solidify a place or a position in the lineup - if you're in the lineup now, you're probably going to get the best opportunity of your lifetime to show what you've got. 

"Everyone knows what they have to play for. Not be selfish, but to want to do what makes you successful as an individual. If you have that mindset, you're going to help the team."

The loss against the Rangers on Saturday was the latest in a string of dispirited performances by the Canadiens, who need four points to equal the 78-point total of their 2011-12 playoff-free season that featured the firing of coach Jacques Martin, who was replaced by Randy Cunneyworth for the final 50 games.

The Canadiens rebounded in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season under newly hired, returning coach Michel Therrien to finish first in the Northeast Division, losing 4-1 to the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs.

Montreal was eliminated 4-2 by the Rangers in the 2014 Eastern Conference Final. The Canadiens lost 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Second Round to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2014-15.

Hopes were high coming into this season, with a maturing cast of young players and a solid core of veterans led by brilliant goalie Carey Price. A Canadiens-record start of 9-0-0 did nothing to dampen expectations. 

Then came a slew of injuries and an ungluing of that early bond.

Price has been out for all but eight periods since Oct. 30, sparkplug forward Brendan Gallagher has missed 27 games and workhorse defenseman P.K. Subban has been sidelined for the past eight. Veteran defensemen Jeff Petry and Tom Gilbert were lost to season-ending injuries that required surgery.

The Canadiens went into the game Saturday with 280 man-games lost to injury; their highest total since 439 through 82 games in 2011-12. 

Only Pacioretty, fellow forwards Tomas Plekanec and Alex Galchenyuk, and defenseman Andrei Markov have played all 76 games this season for a team that has used 40 players.

Against the Rangers on Saturday, the Canadiens were defeated "by a better team than ours, a lot more mature and with greater depth," according to Therrien. "It's as simple as that."

The coach's milestone 750th regular-season NHL game, his 478th behind the Canadiens bench, won't be one for his scrapbooks.

Video: NYR@MTL: Raanta reacts quickly, preserves the lead

Montreal went 0-for-6 on the power play - it's 1-for-21 during Subban's eight-game absence - and allowed four second-period goals to the Rangers, two with New York up a man, after having been tied 1-1 after the first period. 

"For pretty much all of those [six] power plays we had a lot of good looks," Pacioretty said. "We moved the puck nicely for most of them, I felt. We've just got to put the puck in the net."

The quote harkened back to legendary 1940s Canadiens coach Dick Irvin, who famously dragged a goal net into the dressing room during a time of meager offensive production.

"What's so difficult about putting something this small into something this big?" Irvin asked, holding a puck in front of the net.

It doesn't matter now. The Canadiens are among the seven Canadian-based teams that won't make the playoffs.

Pacioretty, elected captain by his teammates the day before training camp began in September, is wrestling with his own game and the larger effort of his team.

Video: MTL@DET: Pacioretty scores from circle to cut deficit

"I will be better from this. We all will be better from this," he said quietly, the media scrum having moved on. "Sometimes, humility is a very good thing, whether it's what people are saying about you or your numbers or the way you've performed or questions you even get asked. 

"In the moment, obviously, it's frustrating. I just got asked whether I'm sick or injured -- you know what they're going to write about when you get asked that question. I'm used to it now. But at the end of the day, you go home in the summer, enjoy your family and start from scratch. You're just that much tougher and you're ready for many more obstacles when the next season comes."

Last summer was months of rehab for Pacioretty, who sustained an off-ice knee injury in July. 

"I don't want to make excuses," he said, shrugging off a suggestion a missed training camp might be haunting him now. "I'm being asked the question and I have thought about that very, very often. It's really hard for me to stand up here and talk about excuses, but at the same time, I know what I'm capable of. I just have to worry about what I have right now and do the best I can in the moment."

After hosting the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday, the Canadiens play at the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, then end the season with home-road-home games against Florida, the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay. 

 "I'm just trying to work hard," Pacioretty said. "There are areas that I feel I have to work on before this season ends. Playing with [Galchenyuk], there are definitely areas that we as a duo and as a line really have to get better at.

"That's really my motivation and the direction that my mind is headed. With six games left, everybody has something to motivate them to the end, to keep them honest, to make sure they play their best. That's what I'm looking forward to."

It's likely Pacioretty awoke Sunday morning with Goofy still grinning on his hand.

"A little brunch and some church," he said of his family's Easter plans. "We painted some eggs [Saturday] and I got my tattoo.

"Those are the times," he added with a deep sigh, "that you're really happy to have a family."

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