And just like that it was all over. The Habs defeat the Leafs 4-1 in the season’s last game in the city where the sport was conceived. The fans were loud and proud of their favorite team but the game itself was not much to write about, especially not from a Leafs perspective. I mean, what did you really expect from the 13th and 15th place teams in the Eastern Conference? The fans that paid for tickets got exactly what they wanted: Habs kick Leafs. But lets face it, this was a game between two franchises that were both relegated to going away and improving their golf game.
The Game Itself
Despite the lack of a story line, it was clear early that the Montreal players were playing for their fans. Thomas Plekanec, who epitomizes hard work, got the scoring started while his team was trying to kill a Leafs 5 on 3 power-play. This is the first time a Canadiens player has scored while 2 men down since Guy Carbonneau did it in 1983. Max Pacioretty and Eric Cole also scored for the Blue, Blanc et Rouge and both added to their career high in goals against a Leafs team that looked as though their post-season was in full swing. Pacioretty’s marker was his 33rd of the year, good enough for 2nd on the team and 18th in the entire league. Max also finished first on the Canadiens in points with 65, which is quite an astonishing result for a guy in just his second year in the league and whose first year ended in a hospital bed. Cole, who reached the 30 goal plateau for just the second time in his career, was the club leader and 13th in the league with 35 goals on the campaign. The last goal of the game and the season for Montreal came from Brad Staubitz who registered his 1st point of the year and only his 9th career goal into the empty net.
The lone Leafs goal came off the stick of Captain Dion Phaneuf, his 12th of the year. As a sign of how the Toronto’s off-season will need to go, you don’t have to look much further than the night of Tim Connolly, the overpaid centerman, who finished a very -4. Phil Kessel was not able to improve on his 37 goals this season, a career high for him, but he did look dangerous at times.
Montreal Finished Dead Last
With Montreal’s win, they creep to within one point of the New York Islanders and two points behind the Maple Leafs, but can’t avoid being the last place team in the Eastern Conference. For you history buffs out there, The Canadiens haven’t finished last in 72 years. In 1939-40, then part of a 7 team league, the Montreal Canadiens finished in last place and were the only team to miss the playoffs behind the Bruins, Rangers, Maple Leafs, Blackhawks, Red Wings and New York Americans. In that playoff, the Rangers would defeat the Maple Leafs for the championship. Since 1940, Montreal has won 20 Stanley Cups and so for a club with so much history of winning, they really don’t know what it’s like to finish last. What makes this hurt even worse for Montreal fans is that just 4 seasons ago, the club finished 1st in the Eastern Conference and so the slip from 1st to worst has happened quick. And yet, in the world of small victories the Habs will select no lower than 4th overall in this off-season’s NHL entry draft. They will likely get the 3rd overall pick, unless a team behind them is able to win the lottery and surpass them in the draft order. Montreal’s chance of winning the lottery stands at 14.2%.
With Toronto’s loss, they remain in the hunt to win the draft lottery. Their odds of winning the lottery stand at 8.1% but they will pick no later than 6th. The loss typifies the season the Maple Leafs have had, losing to teams that they should have beaten. Head to head with Montreal, they are 3-3 after having opened the season with a 2-0 shutout win against Montreal. Many fans and pundits in Toronto blame the lost season on the Montreal Canadiens and their captain Brian Gionta who in their 7th game, on Saturday night, knocked James Reimer out with a concussion. I don’t necessarily agree with that, as the Leafs still contended for a playoff spot with Jonas Gustaffson, but I believe that Montreal did play a big part in the demise of the Leafs. That bigger blow to the Leafs season came on Saturday February 11th, when the Leafs, who had just lost to Philadephia and Winnipeg in back to back, 1 goal defeats, were about to honor their franchise leader in points. Mats Sundin night in Toronto featured two clubs on opposite ends of the spectrum. The Leafs were in a playoff spot and the Habs were near the basement. What started as a tribute to one of their club’s greatest stars ended up as a 5-0 massacre. Unfortunately for fans, the Leafs would not win again at home until their second to last game of the season against the Tampa Bay Lightning and would only win 7 of their last 26 games.
What would the 1st overall pick mean?
For both franchises, a number one pick would be a wonderful step in the right direction and in this year’s draft, selections 1-5 are going to assure you of a top notch player. But although Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko will likely go 1-2, there are questions as to whether the Columbus Blue Jackets will pick another Russian player and if the Edmonton Oilers will pick a forward. This means that one of these two offensively gifted players could potentially be had at number 3.
Montreal Picks: The last time the Canadiens picked in the top 5 was in 2005 when they selected their star netminder Carey Price with the 5th overall pick. The last time Montreal picked 1st overall was in 1981 when they selected Doug Wickenheiser. Ironically the last time they picked in the top 10 outside of Carey Price was when they went with big strong defenseman who now plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs: Mike Komisarek.
Toronto Picks: The Leafs last top 5 pick came in 2008 when they chose ‘the Human Eraser’ Luke Schenn of the Kelowna Rockets with their 1st pick, 5th overall. The last Leaf to get picked 1st overall was Wendel Clark in 1985. Leaf fans are hopeful that Brian Burke will hold onto the pick and continue to build for the future.
With the Florida Panthers making the playoffs this season, the Toronto Maple Leafs now become the club that has been outside of the Stanley Cup playoffs the longest. This is the 7th straight season that the Maple Leafs have not reached the post-season. The Maple Leafs join the Buffalo Bills (11), Minnesota Timberwolves (7), Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals (31) as the clubs who have not made the playoffs for the most amount of years in the four major sports.
The Pressure is on
Whether it’s a first to worst scenario like it has been in Montreal, or the longest streak outside of the playoffs like it has been in Toronto, the pressure to play, coach and manage in the two largest Canadien markets doesn’t get easier when the ice has melted. Although this hockey season is over, next season starts on Tuesday when the Draft Lottery is held on TSN. Let’s see who wins the race next year.
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