Habs shocked hockey world en route to East Finals

PHILADELPHIA -- Words like "destiny" were thrown around the city of Montreal over the last month, and rightfully so.

The Canadiens were a team that limped into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a No. 8 seed given no chance by anyone in hockey circles to beat Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, who only won the Presidents' Trophy after racking up 121 points during the regular season.

Those prognosticators appeared to be dead on when the Capitals cruised to a 6-3 win in Game 4 to take a 3-1 series lead. They had the Canadiens on the ropes and primed to head home just when everyone thought they would.

But the Habs had other plans. Just when it seemed they were going to be knocked out, they got up when the count was at 9 and, behind some brilliant goaltending by Jaroslav Halak, began firing back.

In Game 7, Marc-Andre Bergeron scored on a power play late in the first period and Dominic Moore tallied at 16:24 of the third to give Montreal a 2-0 lead. Brooks Laich got the Caps on the board 80 seconds later, but Halak finished with 41 saves and Goliath was sent home for the summer.

OK, so upsets happen at this time of year. But there was no way the Canadiens would beat the defending Stanley Cup Champions in Round 2, right?


Once again, the Canadiens were on the ropes -- this time by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who took a 3-2 series lead when they eked out a 2-1 win in Game 5. But Maxim Lapierre scored midway through the third period of Game 6 to give Montreal a 4-2 lead, and the Habs hung on to force a Game 7.

Playing in another elimination game was nothing new to the Canadiens, and it showed. They cruised to a 5-2 victory to close out Mellon Arena for good and improved to 5-0 in games where their season was on the line. They were on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals to face the seventh-seeded Philadelphia Flyers. It was a script better suited for Hollywood.

But Round 3 would be awfully unkind to the Canadiens. The Flyers' towering defense, led by Chris Pronger and Braydon Coburn, took it to Montreal's smaller offense right from the get-go. The first two games were mismatches, and the Canadiens went home trailing 2-0 in the series and 9-0 on the scoreboard.

It would prove to be too much to overcome, even though the Habs showed plenty of grit and determination in a 5-1 victory at a raucous Bell Centre in Game 3. Peter Laviolette's group made adjustments and blanked the Canadiens for a third time in the series with a 3-0 win in Game 4.

The talk between Games 4 and 5 was dominated by how these Canadiens could find a way. After all, history proved it. And when Brian Gionta scored just 59 seconds in to give Montreal its first goal in Philadelphia and a 1-0 lead, belief began to creep in.

Michael Cammalleri

Left Wing - MTL

GOALS: 13 | ASST: 6 | PTS: 19

SOG: 60 | +/-: -6

But the Flyers, who became only the third team in NHL history to win a series after losing the first three games when it shocked the Boston Bruins in Round 2, would have none of this comeback stuff. The Canadiens gave them a scare when Scott Gomez cut a 3-1 deficit in half with 13:07 to go in the third period, but Jeff Carter ended Montreal's season when he scored an empty-net goal at 19:37.

"It doesn't really hit you until you get on the plane," Gomez said. "It's tough. We fell short of our goal. Some of the guys in the organization, the younger guys, they took a huge step. But I don't think anyone's satisfied in here. You want to go to the (Stanley Cup) Finals."

Instead, the Flyers are headed there to face the Chicago Blackhawks, with Game 1 to be played at the United Center Saturday night. For the Canadiens, their next meaningful game won't be played until October.

"When your season's over, it's tough to swallow," defenseman Josh Gorges said. "We came up short. It's tough.

"I think in a few days' time, when this all soaks in, we'll be able to realize some of the steps that we made and the progress that we made as an organization. Right now, it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. All we're thinking about is the loss."

Sure, it stings now. It may remain painful until after the Stanley Cup Final has concluded. But at some point this summer, there's little doubt that the Canadiens will feel proud of what they accomplished. Their postseason was supposed to last no more than five games. Instead, they won a pair of Game 7s and ended the seasons of Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby prematurely.

Not bad.

"That was a credit to everybody in this room, the coaching staff, the organization … they built this team around a group of guys that want to play for each other," Gorges said. "When push came to shove, when no one gave us a chance, this team came together and played hard."

They also watched young players develop right before their very eyes. P.K. Subban, the club's second-round draft choice in 2007, went from Hamilton in the American Hockey League to playing on the top defense pairing alongside Roman Hamrlik.

"It's a great group of guys in this room," said Subban, who only dressed for two regular-season games with the big club. "We play for each other. There're no egos in this room. Everybody throws it aside. Hopefully we'll keep this group together."

Rather than sulking, Subban -- wise and mature well beyond his 21 years -- was already talking about next year. Considering what the Canadiens did over the past month, you could hardly blame him for being excited.

"I have to use this experience now," Subban said. "You can't just sit back and say, 'Well, I played in the playoffs.' You've got to go out there and work harder and work on the things that you know are going to help. I think I learned more about what a team is like, what a family's like, just being in this organization. It really is a family."

One that showed plenty of fight. One that enjoyed a postseason both the team and its hometown can be proud of.

"We played hard for each other, we played hard for the organization, we played hard for the fans back in Montreal. There was no quit in us," Gorges said.

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL