Canadiens had strong season despite loss

Backup goalie Peter Budaj and Montreal defied odds this year, but still felt the sting of loss. AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz

MONTREAL -- The playoff exit was still a little too raw for the players in a quiet Montreal Canadiens dressing room to appreciate what they accomplished this season.

From last place in the Eastern Conference a year ago to Northeast Division champs, fact is very few people ever expected the Habs to did what they did this year.

“We took a step in the right direction, but we realize we still have a lot of work to do. We need to keep things in perspective," coach Michel Therrien said.

But the big-picture analysis will have to wait for another day. On this night, the players on the No. 2-seeded Canadiens only felt disappointment after losing their series to the Ottawa Senators 4-1.

"We have so much pride in this room, every guy in this room honestly expected to make it all the way to the end because we had such a good group,” winger Max Pacioretty said. "If you want, say adversity, bad bounces, injuries -- but at the end of the day guys like me have to look in the mirror and I feel personally I let my teammates down. I have to stay positive and use it as motivation this summer to work on my game."

Pacioretty revealed after the game Thursday night that he played with a bum shoulder suffered in Game 1. But he refused to use that as an excuse.

"It wasn’t difficult -- it’s playoffs. Everyone is banged up on every team. It’s no excuse for everyone’s play,” Pacioretty said. "I take full responsibility for my poor play."

The Habs were a banged-up group, losing a half dozen players to injuries, including star goalie Carey Price.

Whether or not that weighs in the way the passionate Montreal fan base reacts to a first-round loss remains to be seen.

“I think the fans realized the progress we made,” Therrien said. "We fully realize we have a lot left to do. But we have incredible fans. That’s what I take the most from Montreal, it’s a special place with a lot of passion, and the fans are incredible.”

Senators head coach Paul MacLean exchanged heated barbs with Therrien during the season, but was all praise after his team eliminated the Habs.

“Michel did an outstanding job with the Montreal Canadiens -- I believe they were last in the Northeast Division (last year) to the division championship this year. That’s a lot of good work,” MacLean said. “I know he’s disappointed tonight and can be frustrated maybe a little bit, but his team played well all year long and they have nothing to hang their head about.”

And we know one thing now, the Habs and Sens have a true rivalry.

“Well, I think it’s certainly started,” MacLean said. “And that’s exciting. For me, I was excited before this series started because of what it is and what it means to the cities in proximity. We’re going to be in the same division again. They’re a good team, they’re well-coached, and I just think it’s going to be fun. This is where rivalries really start, when you play each other in the playoffs. I’m looking forward to next season (with the Habs). It’s going to be fun again.”