Montreal Canadiens fans don’t have to look very far for the last time they faced the same 2-0 series deficit they do now against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Of course, they may choose to look past it or block it out altogether instead, seeing as wounds from last year’s Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers may have yet to heal.
Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers (2013-14)
Coming off an emotional and physically draining second-round, seven-game series against the Boston Bruins, the Habs fell behind early against the Rangers in Game 1, only to have forward Chris Kreider skate into goalie Carey Price, thereby dashing the Habs’ comeback hopes that game and, as was thought at the time, that series.
Then-backup Peter Budaj replaced Price in what would end up a blowout 7-2 loss, in which what is becoming the Canadiens’ trademark indiscipline got the best of them again. Turning to third-stringer Dustin Tokarski, the Habs lost Game 2 as well, before Alex Galchenyuk gave them some hope with a Game 3 overtime winner.
Martin St. Louis would return the favor in Game 4, giving the Rangers what proved to be an insurmountable 3-1 series lead. Rene Bourque responded with a Game 5 hat trick in a 7-4 win, but that was all the offense the Habs had left, as they bowed out quietly 1-0 in a do-or-die Game 6, in which they managed just 18 shots on goal.
The 10 playoff wins were the most the Canadiens won in one postseason since the 1993 Stanley Cup, placing the 2013-14 team among the franchise’s best since that last championship victory. It wasn’t a good way to go out, but it definitely was one of the best when looking at earlier failures at 2-0 comeback attempts.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Philadelphia Flyers (2009-10)
There have been four failed attempts from down 2-0 between now and the last time the Habs managed to win under those same circumstances. The one immediately prior to the Rangers also coincidentally came in the third round, this time against the Philadephia Flyers in the spring of 2010.
It was also only other series on this list in which Montreal managed to win a game. The Habs won Game 3 at home by a decisive 5-1 final score. Those were the only five goals the Habs would score through the first four games of the series, as the Habs ran into a red-hot Michael Leighton in net.
Of note, this series marked the end of Jaroslav Halak’s memorable playoff run in 2010 (and his time with the Habs, it turned out). It technically also gave fans the Hart Memorial Trophy-nominated Carey Price, technically. So don’t cry too much.
Had Halak not stolen the show that spring, maybe management wouldn’t have chosen between the two. Who knows?
Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins (2008-09)
Excluding a spirited mini-comeback from two goals down in Game 1 (which they ended up losing 4-2), the Montreal Canadiens were largely devoid of life in this first-round sweep against the Boston Bruins. It wasn’t totally unexpected, though.
This was the season then-general manager Bob Gainey surprisingly fired Guy Carbonneau and took over as head coach midway through. The Habs stumbled into the playoffs, losing their last four and finishing tied with the Florida Panthers for the last Eastern Conference seed, getting in because of a tiebreaker.
It should be noted, in the fifth-last game of the season, they lost defenseman Andrei Markov to a left knee injury. He thankfully was healthy enough to start the next season, though… only to suffer a gruesome ankle injury in the opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He ended up missing 35 games as a result… but came back in time to enjoy the team’s miraculous playoff run, at least one round of it anyway, before sustaining another knee injury in the first game of the Eastern Conference Semi-Final (different knee).
All this to say, it may not be just Markov’s aging that’s showing this particularly lackluster playoff run (for him personally).
In any case, after the 2008-09 playoffs, Gainey retooled the Habs roster, acquiring players like Michael Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, and Scott Gomez. He of course said goodbye in the process to Alexei Kovalev, Saku Koivu, and an eventual top pairing of P.K. Subban and Ryan McDonagh.
Let this be a lesson to you that there is life after playoff death. In this particular case, it all went to Hell.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (2003-04)
It would seem all these two teams ever do is exchange sweeps. A full decade before Montreal took the brooms to the Lightning, they did the same to the Habs in the second round of the 2004 playoffs en route to their first-ever Stanley Cup.
Eventual Conn Smythe Trophy-winner Brad Richard plunged a dagger into the hearts of Habs fans everywhere by banking a shot off the back of goalie Jose Theodore in overtime in Game 3 to essentially seal the Canadiens’ fates.
The worst part was Montreal held their very first lead of the entire series late in the game when Patrice Brisebois scored with just four minutes left. Vincent Lecavalier tied it with 17 seconds remaining, and the rest, as they say, is history. Or at least the Habs were, for all intents and purposes. They lost Game 4 by a score of 3-1.
So, there you have it. The last four 0-2 deficits the Habs faced. It’s almost fitting that the first of the bunch came against Tampa, considering the unenviable task they now face. There is light(ning) at the end of this particular tunnel, though.
You can’t look back that far without remembering Montreal’s first-round series that year, against Boston. That series marked the first time in franchise history the Habs overcame a 3-1 series deficit. More importantly, in regard to recent events, it also marked the last time they won after losing the first two games.
This isn’t to suggest the Habs are due or anything, just that it’s possible. If the Canadiens can overcome Kovalev embarrassingly giving up the puck in overtime in Game 4 to put the 11-point-favorite Bruins ahead 3-1, they can certainly come back from 0-2 against a team they had a superior regular-season record than right now.
The circumstances relative to then may be different, in other words. They’re better. So are these Canadiens.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.