MONTREAL - A surprising and promising season ended on a sour note for the injury-depleted Montreal Canadiens, but left hope for what lies ahead.
"It sucks. It's not a good feeling," said winger Max Pacioretty of the season-ending 6-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday that knocked Montreal out of the first round in five games.
Pacioretty was one of several key Habs banged up in the series, reportedly suffering a separated shoulder in Game 1.
The team also lost goaltender Carey Price, and forwards Brian Gionta, Lars Eller, Brandon Prust and Ryan White to various injuries during the five-game run, and had been without defenceman Alexei Emelin since early April, a loss which in part contributed to late season struggles defensively.
But as the Canadiens have preached all season long, they weren't about to blame the loss on missing personnel.
"The last two weeks we had a lot of bad luck. But for us and my approach with the team and our approach since day one, that was not an excuse," head coach Michel Therrien said. "I don't think the players used that as an excuse because every game, the way that they were preparing and started the game, I could tell that was not an excuse."
Even so, the defeat hit Pacioretty hard.
"I feel like personally I'm a big reason why our team lost. It's a pretty bad feeling," he said.
Few predicted the Canadiens to even make the playoffs this year after finished 15th in the Eastern Conference and 28th overall a season ago. But, guided by general manager Marc Bergevin and Therrien, a team-first concept was instilled and embraced by the players, fuelling the club up the standings to first in the Northeast Division and second in the East.
"I'm extremely proud of this group. We did a lot of good things this year ??? a lot of good things," said Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges.
Among those things: the play and progress of rookies Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk. Both made the team out of a shortened training camp and didn't look out of place in the fast-paced, bigger-bodied NHL.
For the five-foot-nine, 178-pound Gallagher, an impressive rookie campaign ??? in points and consistency ??? earned him a nod as a Calder Trophy finalist as the league's top rookie.
"I've coached a lot of young kids before and sometimes they have a tendency, because they're nervous and don't know what to expect, to change their game. But both of those kids, they didn't change their game from the way they were progressing all season long," Therrien said. "They were a big factor for our team. I was really impressed with the way those kids played in the playoffs.
"We took a step in the right direction and we're also aware that there's still work to do. We have to look at things in perspective."
And while the loss stung, the team knows there was a silver lining attached.
"It's not easy but at the same time we still have a good young group of guys who will improve next year," defenceman Andrei Markov said. "We have a good future."