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Canadiens’ front office left with many decisions after first-round playoff exit

Pavel Buchnevich of the New York Rangers skates with the puck against the Montreal Canadiens during Game Six at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, April 22, 2017 in New York.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Okay, Montreal Canadiens' front office, now what?

Accepted hockey wisdom holds the championship window for the Habs, with a 29-year-old franchise goalie (Carey Price), a 31-year-old franchise defenceman (Shea Weber) and a 28-year-old captain and 35-goal scorer (Max Pacioretty) is only open for a couple of years.

The problem: After a first-round playoff exit against the New York Rangers, who won Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal 3-1 on Saturday, it's exceedingly difficult to argue seriously that they're close winning the team's first Stanley Cup in a quarter century.

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This despite the presence of the aforementioned players, an uber-talented 23-year-old forward prospect like Alex Galchenyuk and youthful blood-and-guts players like Brendan Gallagher and Artturi Lehkonen.

Would they have been better off with P.K. Subban, a proven playoff performer, in their lineup?

This team's shortcomings lie elsewhere, frankly – notably down the middle and in terms of scoring – but fans will be forgiven for asking the question.

Subban, after all, is still playing.

And what to do about impending free agents Alex Radulov and Andrei Markov and restricted free agents Nathan Beaulieu (a healthy scratch on Saturday), Galchenyuk and the other players looking for new contracts this summer?

That's leaving aside Price, who will enter the last year of his deal next fall and can be signed to a presumably very rich extension this summer.

After last season's failure to make the playoffs, Montreal GM Marc Bergevin said "it's on me."

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This year, he traded a cornerstone defenceman, acquired a first-line winger via free agency (Radulov), fired his coach, shipped out bit parts and draft picks for character, grit, and veteran experience at the trade deadline.

It might have worked – this was a very close series against the Rangers – but it didn't.

The biggest decision Bergevin faces, and let's face it, there are several, concerns his goaltender.

Given he moved Subban, a fan favourite and the team's highest-paid player, is anyone on the Habs' roster safe?

That's of course assuming Price, who has Olympic and World Cup gold medals and earned his second Georges Vezina Trophy nomination as the NHL's best goalie on Saturday, has seen enough to sign what is likely the last big-money contract of his career to stay in Montreal.

Price, who has been the best thing about the Habs for half a decade, didn't make the difference in this series – in the deciding game he gave up a goal that can rightly be described as soft.

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But if the Rangers, who finished just one point behind the Habs in the regular season, exposed one failing in this Montreal team, it is that they don't have enough scoring punch up front, and cannot compete with top teams with a centre lineup of Philip Danault, Tomas Plekanec and Andrew Shaw/Galchenyuk, and Steve Ott or whoever else is on the fourth line.

Galchenyuk began the series as a fourth-line left winger, so it's an open question as to whether he fits in the club's future plans.

He wasn't much of a factor in Game 6, or in the series.

Habs captain Pacioretty, he of 35 goals in the regular season, didn't score in the series, but in the first period he evidently decided to contribute in other ways: high-sticking New York's Jimmy Vesey and dropping the gloves against the Harvard product for his first NHL fight since in nearly three years.

During his seven minutes in the penalty box, the Canadiens managed to take the lead via the unlikely person of Alexei Emelin, who scored just his third goal of the season after a falling Radulov found him from below the goal line with a pass.

The Habs owned the first period, chalking up 68 per cent of shot attempts and only two giveaways to the Rangers' 11.

The second frame, however, has been Montreal's Achilles heel throughout the series.

Just 2:26 into the second, the Rangers scored their first power-play goal in 15 attempts in the series (and the first goal the Habs have given up on the penalty kill in almost a month).

It came from Mats Zuccarello, whose one-timed shot from the right wing side should have been stopped by a goalie of Price's stature.

About 11 minutes later, the home side took the lead via a pass from Kevin Hayes, whose feed to Zuccarrello in nearly an identical spot to his first goal gave little chance to Price, even if the puck kissed off his left skate into the net (defenceman Jordie Benn will regret his defensive coverage on the play).

It should also be noted coach Claude Julien sent out his fourth line and defensive pair for a defensive zone faceoff after a television timeout – precisely the thing his predecessor Michel Therrien used to get criticized for.

The Canadiens were gifted a power-play early in the third, but didn't seriously threaten.

It would become a theme for the period.

Plekanec would have a half-chance to tie the game in the final two minutes.

Henrik Lundqvist saved it, as he did all series; in fairness, it was more than the Habs deserved.

When Derek Stepan scored into an empty net, it merely accentuated the point.

Video: Flames starting work for next season after playoff rout, GM says (The Canadian Press)
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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More

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