The Montreal Canadiens, following a valiant effort to get back into their second round series with the Tampa Bay Lightning, finally fell out of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs on Tuesday night. The Lightning, behind a convincing 4-1 victory, ended Montreal’s season and simultaneously advanced to the Stanley Cup semifinals.
The Canadiens had made the conference finals last season however in that series they lost Carey Price to injury. During the course of the 2014/15 regular season, Montreal appeared to be a force to be reckoned with. The Canadiens won 50 games on the year and claimed 110 points, good enough for second in the eastern conference standings. Furthermore, Montreal enjoyed a first round series win over Ottawa, one that saw them enter the second round with as good a shot as anyone to claim the 2015 Stanley Cup.
But what held Montreal back (besides the game one botched call) was a bad patch of hockey following game three of their first round series. The Canadiens lost two of their last three to Ottawa and then proceeded to lose the first three to Tampa Bay. Had Montreal closed out Ottawa sooner, maybe the Habs would have been in much better shape heading into the series against the Lightning.
In game six of the Lightning series in particular the Canadiens were never really a factor. Tampa Bay took a first period lead behind Nikita Kucherov‘s fifth goal of the post-season. Steven Stamkos, who didn’t score at all in the first round against Detroit, scored what would be the series winner against the Habs in the second period. Ondrej Palat also scored late in the same frame and Tampa Bay took a 3-0 lead into the final period. Max Pacioretty, a player who had a respectable post-season, scored Montreal’s only goal late in the third before Kucherov scored again on an empty-netter.
As the Montreal Canadiens went, so went the last Canadian-based team in the 2015 post-season. Previously Winnipeg, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Calgary saw their post-seasons end as well. Accordingly, the dominance of American-based franchises will now continue in the NHL: no team in Canada has won the Stanley Cup since the 1993 Habs accomplished the feat.
The Lightning, who last won the Cup in 2004 (thanks in huge part to an uncounted goal that the 2004 Calgary Flames scored), now move on to the eastern conference finals where they await the winner of the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers. Those two teams will meet on Wednesday night from Madison Square Garden in a game that will conclude the second round of the 2015 playoffs.
At present the eastern conference finals appear to be shaping up as a showdown between Tampa Bay and New York. However Alexander Ovechkin, Washington’s best player, has made some confident statements about his team’s chances in Wednesday’s game. In all cases, the final four in the NHL playoffs will be known by Thursday morning.