Commentary

Top players lose steam in East finals

Updated: May 25, 2010, 1:13 AM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Maybe Montreal defenseman Hal Gill put it best.

What if Rocky didn't win the fight? That's no way for a Cinderella story to end.

And it was no way for the Habs to see their season end, losing 4-2 to the Flyers in Game 5, managing to come up with just two goals in their four losses.

The tendency will be to give the Canadiens a pass for their flameout in the conference finals. They were the eighth seed and wildly exceeded expectations. True. But they were playing a seventh seed, and you have to wonder how many opportunities to get to a Stanley Cup finals come along. Few? Maybe none.

[+] EnlargeCanadiens
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesThe Canadiens were shut out by the Flyers in three out of five games in the East finals.

"Their goalie made some good saves," Montreal coach Jacques Martin said. "We just didn't finish. We had some good opportunities and we didn't finish."

After knocking off two giants in Washington and Pittsburgh, Montreal simply didn't get enough from its best players in this series.

Scott Gomez had his best game of the East finals Monday night, and maybe of the playoffs, as he had a goal and an assist. Still, it was his first goal since the first game of the playoffs.

Andrei Kostitsyn was a disaster. His mindless giveaway in the Montreal zone led to the first of two Philadelphia goals in a 1:24 span that sucked the life out of the Habs. The enigmatic forward managed to score in just one playoff game all spring.

How much did Tomas Plekanec's tepid performance in the past 13 games cost the potential free agent on July 1? Those are the number of games he went without scoring a goal, and one wonders if he will fit into GM Pierre Gauthier's plans. If he does, it certainly won't be at the dollar figure it might have been before the postseason.

Benoit Pouliot, so hot when he came over from Minnesota, managed to score not a single goal in the playoffs. With the Habs trailing 3-1 in the second period and desperate for a goal, Pouliot flubbed a 2-on-1 in a play that typified his miserable postseason.

Still, while looking around the somber Montreal dressing room -- looking at rookie P.K. Subban holding an ice bag over part of his face thanks to a Chris Pronger high stick, looking at Brian Gionta, who had several chances to tie the game but couldn't quite get it done even though he led all forwards with 24:47 in ice time -- and seeing players patiently answering questions about the team's disappointment, it would be uncharitable not to give this gutsy team its due.

For much of the spring, this never-say-die Habs team invoked memories of 1993 and 1986 and captured the hearts of a hockey-mad province. And for that the Canadiens are to be commended.

"I don't think we're much for moral victories right now," said Mike Cammalleri, who was so good throughout the playoffs but had just one goal and one point in the series. "I wish we were still playing."

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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