So it has come down to this:  game 81 of the regular season for the Montreal Canadiens.


Hardly.  Not with the way this season has gone.

It has come down to game 81 of the regular season for the Montreal Canadiens, because they failed to punch their ticket directly into the playoffs last night, by dropping a 3-1 decision to the Rangers in New York.  A win would have guaranteed the Habs a playoff spot.  But they lost to a team that needed it more, and wanted it more.

As a result, it’s down to game 81 against the Bruins on Boston Thursday night.  And with the way this season has unfolded, it may very well come down to game 82, Saturday night, when the Pittsburgh Penguins are at the Bell Centre.

In case you haven’t checked your handy-dandy Habs pocket schedule, let me remind you that game 82 is the final game of the regular season for the 2008-2009 edition of the Montreal Canadiens.  And unless the Canadiens beat either the Bruins Thursday or the Penguins Saturday, it could end up being the final game of the season.  Period.

Mind you,  the Habs got plenty of help from their friends in the Philadelphia Flyers last night, who beat the Florida Panthers 2-1 to keep the Panthers in 9th spot;  three points back of the Habs, with the Rangers holding down eighth place.  So, mathematically, the Canadiens are still sitting in pretty good shape as they attempt to nail down a berth in post-season play.

Mathematically they might be in reasonable shape. But on the ice, well, that’s a different story.

With Mathieu Schneider and Andrei Markov both gone, likely for the rest of the season, after coming up lame the night before in a 3-2 loss to the Senators at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens have lost their MVP in Markov, and their most effective weapon on the power play, in the recently-acquired Schneider.

As a result.  Well, you saw what the results were last night.  A defence that features not one, but two American Hockey Leaguers in Doug Janik and Ryan O’Byrne.  A goaltender in Carey Price who looked like the Carey Price of old: which is to say that he looked completely off his game, after being put back into the lineup after Jaroslav Halak lost to the Sens the night before.  And a first line of Koivu, Kovalev and Tanguay that finally took the night off after shooting the lights out, night after night.

Listen, that was bound to happen.  There was no way you could expect the Koivu line to continue  its torrid pace.  However, was it too much to expect some of the other forwards to pick up the slack?  Particularly the so-called second line of Tomas Plekanec, who was joined by Andrei Kostitsyn and Matt D’Agostini on this particular night.

The total output of the Plek line?  Zero goals.  Zero assists.  A combined minus five.  Quite frankly, I’m tired of wasting my breath when it comes to trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with guys like A.Kostitsyn and Plekanec.

Truth be told, when you look at the defence last night, Janik and O’Byrne weren’t the problem.  They looked much more comfortable out there against the Rangers than they did the other night against the Senators.

The trouble was Mike Komisarek.  The trouble was Josh Gorges.  Gorges? He’s not built to play 25 minutes in a game, as he did last night.  As for Komisarek, I’m not willing to cut him the same slack.  His costly turnover led directly to the opening goal by Chris Drury.

And the trouble was Carey Price.  Out of position on the Drury goal as he failed to hug the post properly.  And out of position, literally caught wandering, which led to New York’s second goal by Nick Antropov.

Can somebody please tell me what Carey Price is doing roaming around like that???

The only Hab to beat Henrik Lundqvist?  Mathieu Dandenault.  A defenceman playing forward on a team he should be playing defence on.  On a line with Glen Metropolit and Chris Higgins.  The shutdown line.  And Montreal’s most dangerous line.

Which isn’t saying much.  In fact, it isn’t saying nearly enough.

And as a result, the Canadiens now move on to Boston looking for that elusive victory that will guarantee them a spot in the playoffs.  Or more help from their friends.  Either way, the Canadiens are in a heap of hurt, in more ways than one, as they head into game number 81 of 82.

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