Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien constantly demands discipline and insists on playing the game “the right way”. During the 2013 playoffs, Therriens failure to keep his own eye on the prize influenced the outcome of the five game series loss to the Ottawa Senators. There were other factors but a horrible incident in the opening game and a coaching war of words eventually led to the emotional undoing of the Canadiens.
As this year, the 2013 Ottawa/Canadiens matchup pitted the Eastern Conference’s second and seventh place teams. That was the year of the lockout-shortened 48 game schedule. The Canadiens had gone from last in the East in 2012 (allowing them to draft Alex Galchenyuk) to second in 2013. The Senators had a good team but endured a devastating series of injuries including Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson’s sliced achilles tendon. Despite that, Ottawa squeaked into the playoffs on the final weekend and the Ottawa Senators were set to meet a Montreal team in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1926. Despite the gegraphical proximity of the franchises there was hardly an established rivalry going into the series. In the span of eight days, everything changed.
Bell Centre – May 2nd Game One – Distasteful as many thought it was, the Ottawa Sun front page said it all, literally and accurately. At 13:09 of the second period Rene Bourque answered a first period goal by Erik Karlsson by coming out from behind the net and roofing a backhand behind Anderson to tie the game at 1-1. At that point the Canadiens were comfortably outshooting Ottawa 34-17. Nineteen seconds later 6’5″ Ottawa defenseman Erik Gryba caught Lars Eller as he was taking a pass from Raphael Diaz. It was a devastating hit that left Eller unconscious on the ice in a pool of blood. He was taken off the ice on a stretcher and transported to hospital with what was eventually diagnosed as a season-ending concussion. There are good arguments about the legality of the chck from both sides, but in the end the head was the principal point of contact and Gryba was suspended two games. Brendan Gallagher scored during the Gryba match penalty but the incident took the life out of the Bell Centre, and the Canadiens had lost their poise. Ottawa came back to score three late goals to win the game 4-2. Sensitivity has never been a strong point in the NHL and Paul MacLean’s performance in the post game news conference brought black humour to a new level. MacLean said “Eller should be mad at player 61, whoever he is” . Raphael Diaz sent the pass up to Eller. MacLean repeatedly refused to refer to Diaz by name which brought Therrien into it. He said MacLean’s comments “showed a lack of respect for Eller and his family and I’m never going to accept that.” With a few words MacLean had changed the game story and Therrien went for it hook, line and sinker. Forgotten was the fact that the Canadiens outshot Senators 50-31; that the Canadiens had been in control despite the loss. From that point on the series became all about Therrien and MacLean.
Bell Centre – May 3rd Game Two – The second game in twenty-four hours. The war of words continued. Brandon Prust called MacLean a “bugeyed fat walrus”. But the Canadiens managed to shrug off the sideshow long enough to record a 3-1 win. Ryan White and Brendan Gallagher scored 29 seconds apart in the second period and as the game’s first star Carey Price stopped 29 of 30 and had two teeth knocked out in a goalmouth collision.
ScotiaBank Centre – May 5th – Game Three – Bad feelings finally made it to ice surface. Six roughing penalties in the first period, four to Ottawa. And then seconds after Ottawa made it 4-1 seven minutes into the third period the fighting started. A brawl involving, on the Canadiens side Bouillon, Moen, Tinordi and Colby Armstrong against Cowen, Zach Smith, Chris Neil and Chis Phillips. Most of them also got game misconducts. It was started by Ryan White who was sent off for slashing. Four seconds later Jakob Silfverberg made it 5-1. To add a little more fuel to the sideshow MacLean called an Ottawa time out with 17 seconds remaining while leading 6-1. Therrien once again bit, calling the move “classless.” Ottawa native Jean-Gabriel Pageau had a hattrick in the game. Craig Anderson was first star.
ScotiaBank Centre – May 7th – Game Four – The one that got away from the Canadiens. Despite the fact that the Canadiens were already missing Eller, Emelin, Gionta and White with injuries, P.K. Subban and Alex Galchenyuk scored goals just over a minute apart in the second period and the Habs had a 2-0 lead. They held that lead past the midpoint of the third period. At 11:55 Mika Zibanejad scored to make it 2-1. With the Ottawa net empty the Canadiens were 22.6 seconds away from evening the series when Cory Conacher scored to tie it up. Worse – on the play Carey Price suffered a groin injury. Although he finished the period, Peter Budaj had to come out for the overtime and in the third minute Kyle Turris let a harmless looking knuckleball from 50 feet that found and opening under Budaj’s arm. Game over. Instead of a tie series, with their comeback, Ottawa now led the series 3-1.
Bell Centre – May 9th – Game Five – Price joins five others on the injury list. Peter Budaj in goal making his first career playoff start and backstopping a team that had lost all emotion and confidence. Quite frankly Budaj wasn,t very good but he wasn’t alone. He gave up six goals on 29 shots as the Habs trailed 2-1 at the end of the first, 3-1 after two and in the third period managed only six shots on goal on Bell Centre ice. 6-1 was the final score.. The second time in the series the Canadiens allowed six goals.
Adding It Up –
In the end the series MVP was Craig Anderson who stopped 171 of 180 Canadiens shots. The Canadiens were outscored 20-9 The scored only six goals at even strength.
The series turning point was the Eric Gryba hit on Lars Eller followed by Paul MacLean’s ability to turn himself into a psychological distraction for the remainder of the series. He conned Michel Therrien into a war of words and caused an atmosphere where playing the game became almost secondary.
In the next series against Pittsburgh nobody listened to MacLean and the Senators went down in five games.
Gone from the Canadiens in the two years since are Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges, Rene Bourque, Colby Armstrong, Travis Moen, Gabriel Dumont, Mike Blunden, Francis Bouillon, Raphael Diaz, Michael Ryder and Peter Budaj. Changes in Ottawa include coach Paul MacLean, Daniel Alfredsson, Jakob Silfverberg, Sergei Gonchar and Cory Conacher.