In a must-win situation, the Montreal Canadiens fell to a two-game deficit as the New York Rangers took Game 4. The game was not without the team rivalry being elevated as both head coaches traded words for two days.
Yet, hopes were high for the Canadiens and their fans, given their strong finish in Game 3. And with P.K. Subban acknowledging that the team had not played their best and promising that he would step up his own game, it seemed the Habs were on their way to tying the series.
Game 4 was almost a carbon copy of Game 3. Rangers scoring first, Habs tying it up, Dustin Tokarski showing and instilling more confidence than ever. And even though the score was evened by the end of regulation with a superb power play goal by Subban, who made good on his promise, a giveaway to Martin St. Louis finished the night.
It was frustrating to watch players, the “little team that could” (and did) eliminate the “Big Bad Boston Bruins” in Round 2, suddenly stumped by a team that matches them in speed, but outsmarts them in scoring. It was with hopes and collectively held breath that fans watched an anything-can-happen OT, only to be deflated by the results.
This was a game the Canadiens had to win, and should have. Their third-period play was that much better, their overtime period was strong, and Tokarski demonstrating his proven skills. However, hopes and promises don’t win hockey games, and they certainly don’t win Eastern Conference Finals.
I’ll say this here for the first time, but it won’t be the last – it isn’t easy being a fan of the Canadiens. The ups and downs are physically draining, emotionally taxing, and all too familiar. There is another game to play, and with any luck (and lots more “showing up to play” by every player), another after that. And another.
Us fans tell ourselves it isn’t over. Technically, it isn’t. Those on social media have the Habs cleaning out their lockers already. I won’t go there. It isn’t in my nature, but it shouldn’t be the way to approach any game, much less a do-or-die.
We resort to history. These very same Rangers were exactly where the Canadiens are when they faced the strong Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 2. The Los Angeles Kings overcame a 3-0 deficit in Round 1 to advance to the semifinals. The Canadiens twice won three in a row in the 2010 playoffs against the two strongest teams in their division.
Can they do it again? These are playoffs. Anything can happen, but not until the team starts to show up in front of Lundqvist’s net and find the back of it more often, and more competitively.
It would be a certain story if this storied franchise did it again. Analysis of what’s needed has already been done from Game 1 all the way through the intermissions of tonight. However, tonight is about absorbing the reality that Game 5, at the Bell Centre filled with the Loudest Fans In Hockey, could well be the last game of the Canadiens’ season.
Tonight is about not just facing that reality, but perhaps cushioning it with the hopes that every fan holds in their heart. That perhaps this time, these Canadiens will rise to historic glory and shock the hockey world with a stunning comeback.
It really isn’t easy being a Habs fan.