NEW YORK -- All season, the Montreal Canadiens believed they were built to win, and a big reason was the arrival of defenseman Shea Weber.
The Canadiens made other offseason changes, including signing free agent forward Alexander Radulov, but acquiring Weber from the Nashville Predators in a trade for defenseman P.K. Subban on June 29 was the biggest and loomed over everything the Canadiens did all season.
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Imagine how it feels now for the Canadiens, who were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs after losing their Eastern Conference First Round series to the New York Rangers in six games, to watch Subban and the Predators preparing to face the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Second Round after sweeping the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks.
The Canadiens probably weren't thinking about that following their 3-1 loss in Game 6 on Saturday, but at some point, it is impossible to imagine it won't enter some of their minds, especially once the second round begins.
"I said it coming into the playoffs, I felt like this was our best chance we've had since I've been here," forward Brendan Gallagher said. "I like this team so much, I like what we brought up and down the lineup. We just didn't get the job done. It's disappointing, obviously, but you use it for what it is, a learning experience, and hopefully you get another opportunity at it."
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To pin the loss in the series on Weber or even the trade would be wrong, because Weber did his job and played well, forming a defensive wall with partner Andrei Markov over the final quarter of the season and in the postseason.
But the analysis will focus on what Subban has to offer offensively and with the Canadiens scoring 11 goals in six games, even if Montreal had the same issues with finishing their chances in the playoffs when Subban was on the team.
"That's the one thing you learn about the playoffs, you've got to bury your chances," Subban said the night the Canadiens were eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round in 2015. "I think individually we've all had chances to bury, and whether it's bad luck or not being sharp enough, we didn't do enough things well to finish them, to win.
"We did a lot of good things to be in the series, but to win the series you've got to finish, you've got to be great. And we weren't great."
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But one thing the trade for Weber did was somewhat close the Canadiens' window to win because, at age 31, he is four years older than Subban. With goaltender Carey Price, 29, eligible for unrestricted free agency after the 2017-18 season and captain Max Pacioretty, 28, the following season, that window will close even more, and it could be argued Weber was acquired to make the most of that limited time the Canadiens have to work with.
In the dressing room following Game 6, Weber was despondent. The disappointment was evident in his face when he answered questions following another playoff loss, meaning he still has never played past the second round of the playoffs in his 12 NHL seasons.
"It's not easy to get to the playoffs," Weber said. "It's a hard road and we've got to learn from it. Obviously a lot of guys have never even been here before, and as you get older you realize that you might not get that many opportunities and you've got to make the best of them.
"It's tough to see this one go by."
It makes it particularly tougher when it is unclear how many more opportunities this group has.