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Stu Cowan: As Habs' playoff dream dies, 'we still have to do our jobs'

Canadiens' Max Domi Couldn't beat Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy during game in January at the Bell Centre. Vasilevskiy has a career 10-1-2 record against teh Habs.
Canadiens' Max Domi Couldn't beat Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy during game in January at the Bell Centre. Vasilevskiy has a career 10-1-2 record against teh Habs.

WASHINGTON — For the third straight season and the fourth time in five years there will be no playoff hockey for the Canadiens and their fans.

The Canadiens went into Thursday night’s game against the Washington Capitals with a 27-27-8 record and a 0.4 per cent chance of making the playoffs, according to . It might as well be zero per cent and Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin knows that, which is why he dealt defenceman Marco Scandella to the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday and will almost certainly make more moves before Monday’s 3 p.m. NHL trade deadline as he focuses on next year and beyond and tries to forget about this season.

Bergevin has been in Colorado this week, watching the last two Avalanche games with his assistant GM Scott Mellanby beside him.

When Avalanche GM Joe Sakic was asked by reporters in Colorado about Bergevin’s presence in the Colorado press box, he answered with a grin: “What you don’t know is that his daughter goes to CU (the University of Colorado). You might want to ask Berge about that. He’s a hockey fan. He loves hockey. He loves watching games.”

When Bergevin was asked by a reporter in the Colorado press box if his daughter attends the University of Colorado, he just grinned.

Longtime hockey writer Adrian Dater , who covers the Avalanche for Colorado Hockey Now , tweeted Thursday afternoon that the Canadiens are “hot after” 6-foot-5, 220-pound defenceman Ryan Graves, who has 8-16-24 totals in 58 games this season and is an NHL-best plus-42. He also shoots left.

“Man, I would NOT deal him if I’m Joe Sakic,” Dater added in his tweet.

A player Sakic is likely to have interest in is Tomas Tatar, who led the Canadiens in scoring with 21-33-54 totals heading into the game against the Capitals.

Graves, 24, is only earning US$735,000 this season and can become a restricted free agent on July 1. Tatar, 29, has one more season remaining on his contract with a $5.3 million salary-cap hit.

While Bergevin talks with Sakic and other GMs around the league and focuses on the future, the Canadiens still had 20 games left to play this season before facing the Capitals. At least the Canadiens have some recent practice when it comes to playing meaningless late-season games, after finishing 28th overall only two seasons ago. Heading into Thursday’s game, the Canadiens were 24th in the overall NHL standings and they’ll be in the lottery for the No. 1 pick at this year’s NHL Entry Draft, which is the only bright spot.

“No matter what happens, I think we still have to do our jobs,” head coach Claude Julien said after Thursday’s morning skate. “I keep saying the same thing: We’re pros and I just can’t see people coming in not wanting to do their jobs. And if that’s the case, then we have to make some decisions here. … But we’ve got to keep playing.

“From here to the end of the year, no matter what happens, we have to improve as a hockey club. I want to see guys that are ready to improve and continue to show that they want to get better, and that’s what I’m looking for.”

Captain Shea Weber is trying to lead the way, playing on a painful sprained left ankle that was supposed to sideline him for 4-6 weeks, but only kept him out of the lineup for two weeks. He missed six games before returning for Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Red Wings in Detroit.

“That’s what you want as an example,” Julien said. “I’m looking for guys who are ready to go through the trenches to win a hockey game. That’s what we’re looking for as an organization. We want guys that are willing to push through and do those kind of things. So when you’ve got a guy who’s your captain, who leads by example, it’s a great thing to have in your dressing room.

“You just hope that more guys are like that — and there are some — so we’re looking for guys that you can trust on a nightly basis and guys that are ready, the old term, to go to war every night,” Julien added. “That’s what we need. That’s what we’re going to see here in these next 20 games and how far that can take us. It’s too bad because we know there’s teams in front of us right now in our division that are struggling as well. It’s a shame that we haven’t been able to win more games lately because we’d probably be in that position for a playoff spot.”

The Canadiens have only played six playoff games in the last five years, losing to the New York Rangers in the first round in 2017.

“It’s very frustrating,” Phillip Danault said. “It gets to us. We’ve got to keep fighting to the end, but it’s very frustrating.”

Canadiens fans can relate.


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