MONTREAL â€” General manager Marc Bergevin likes to say that as long as they have goalie Carey Price, the Montreal Canadiens have a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
But when his team scored only 11 goals in six games against the New York Rangers, even solid play by Price wasn’t enough to keep the Canadiens from being eliminated from the first round of Stanley Cup playoffs.
The series ended with a 3-1 defeat in New York on Saturday night, the Rangers’ third straight win after falling behind 2-1 to start the best-of-seven series.
Price allowed only 12 goals and had an excellent .933 save percentage, but a team that laboured to score in the regular season couldn’t get enough offence going in the playoffs.
“It was a really close series, every single game was contested,” Montreal winger Brendan Gallagher said after the game. “It was just one of those things where they did a few more good things than we did.
“It’s disappointing. I love the group that we have in here.”
The group was assembled for a long playoff run, looking to make the most of Price in his prime.
Last summer, Bergevin felt he added the missing pieces with the controversial trade of P.K. Subban to Nashville for shutdown defenceman and power play ace Shea Weber, as well as the signing of two-time Cup winner Andrew Shaw and skilled Russian winger Alexander Radulov.
Weber was strong in the post season and could have had more than his one goal if not for ringing a few off goalposts. Radulov was a human dynamo and led the team with seven points in six games, but Shaw’s series was cut short without a goal after five games due to an injury.
Artturi Lehkonen continued an impressive rookie season with two goals and four points in the post-season.
But after that, the attack went mostly silent. Captain Max Pacioretty, a 35-goal-scorer in the regular season, was held to one assist despite a series-leading 28 shots on goal. Alex Galchenyuk also didn’t score. Gallagher and Tomas Plekanec played some of their best hockey of the season but each was limited to one goal.
“It definitely feels like a wasted opportunity here,” said Pacioretty.
Claude Julien, who replaced Michel Therrien as coach on Feb. 14, lauded the effort his team put out but was dismayed to see them misfire on what he called “Grade-A” chances.
“We tried everything we could to score and we faced a goaltender (Henrik Lundqvist) that is probably, without a doubt, their best player, and we couldn’t manage to get those goals,” he said. “It wasn’t from lack of trying.
“We probably had more scoring chances than the other team, but they made the most out of theirs. The undoing was the fact that we probably needed a little luck to go with our efforts.”
Now Bergevin has tough decisions to make because it is clear that, without more scoring punch, Price on his own isn’t likely end the once-dominant club’s 24-year Cup drought.
The first decision involves Price himself. The 29-year-old has only one year left on his contract.
Do they extend him at what will surely be a big raise from his current US$6.5 million cap hit? Take one more shot with him and risk losing him as an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season? Or trade him while his value is still sky-high?
Do they keep or move Galchenyuk, who is to become a restricted free agent on July 1? The 23-year-old looked to have become the team’s long-awaited top-line centre when he scored 30 goals in 2015-16, but he was injured after a strong start to this season and struggled after returning, getting put back on left wing where he has spent most of his time in Montreal.
That made two coaches, Therrien and Julien, who apparently don’t see the 2012 third-overall draft pick as a full-time No. 1 centre.
Another who could move is defenceman Nathan Beaulieu, an impending restricted free agent who was a healthy scratch for Game 6 in New York.
Three role players picked up near the trade deadline â€” Steve Ott, Andreas Martinsen and Nikita Nesterov â€” are unrestricted free agents.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press