As I sit here on the morning of my 26th birthday, I am still disgusted with the Habs' performance last night. I have been a fan of this team since birth, and I've been through the full range of emotions, seeing two Stanley Cup victories, a heart-wrenching defeat in 1989, the loss of Patrick Roy, the elation of the return of Saku Koivu, and the disbelief at the utter collapse of Jose Theodore. But last night was the first time I ever felt disgusted by a Montreal Canadiens performance.
Steve Begin should never play another game in a Habs jersey. The penalty that he took five seconds after the end of the second period was absolutely unforgivable. On the list of bonehead penalties, that one will almost certainly find a spot in the Top Five. The period was over, the play was dead, let's take a baseball swing at the puck and hit a guy in the face! The two PPG's the Leafs scored were in 5-on-4 situations and he was the man in the box. The Johnson and Koivu penalties were also unacceptable, but it was the Begin brainfart that killed the team and set the stage for the two 5-on-3's that completely shifted the momentum.
The first ten minutes of the game was like watching men against boys. If it weren't for Huet's solid play, it would have been much worse. 15 shots in 10 minutes! I don't think that Halak would have been able to make all of those stops, and so Carbonneau's decision to go with his All-Star stands as the right one, in my eyes. The two softies, though, those hurt.
Kovalev. Buy him out. He's supposed to be the guy that "thrives" on this kind of game situation. If "thrives" equals "chokes," that would be applicable for last night. Awful give-aways, not a threat in the offensive zone all night. He's got so much supposed talent, but he clearly doesn't bring it on a nightly basis, which is what this team needs. The Habs cannot get by on guys half-assing it or only showing up every 10 games. They need a consistent effort night in, night out. Nothing less should be accepted by the organization.
The young guys played their hearts out. Ryder and Higgins were monsters last night, the former getting the team's only hat-trick of the season and the latter coming close to equalling that task. These guys are the future core of this team, along with a couple of the kids in the A and, of course, Carey Price. The future of the team is very solid, it's just a real damn shame that the present version couldn't get the job done. As the guys on RDS said, they handed this game to the Leafs on a silver platter. When you're up 5-3 in the most important, absolute must-win game of the year, you fight for it and you play smart hockey. They didn't do that in the third period, and quite frankly, they deserve the result that they got. It hurts like hell, but they held their destiny and decided instead to pass it off to the Leafs.
And finally, Sheldon Souray. He may have been a minus player last night, but he also broke up at least 3 probable goals, including the Sundin break that ended up injuring him for the rest of the game. I truly hope that last night was not his last game in a Montreal Canadiens uniform, and that there will be a concerted effort to bring him back to the team. He is a leader, the most dominant and fear-inspiring force on the team. That shot scares goalies, and with a little work on his defensive game, he could be a Norris candidate in a year or two. There is no way to really measure what he means to this team, and his departure would be a great loss that can't be filled at this time (give Komisarek a couple years and a bionic arm, though...).
In all, it's been a roller coaster season, and I'm utterly disappointed and disgusted to see it end in the way that it did against the Leafs. I hope that next year is better.