Hidden Game: Canadiens end season by blowing another lead, losing in shootout to Detroit

Montreal completed the season with a 30-36-16 record for 76 points.

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Leave them wanting more.

Is there any better way to put a ribbon on the final Hidden Game of the Canadiens’ season?

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How does a rabid fan base measure whether progress is being made as the Canadiens, who missed the playoffs for a third straight season, continue rebuilding? That will be the question moving forward in October, when the next NHL season gets going again.

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While Montreal ended the year on a sour note Tuesday night at the Bell Centre, losing 5-4 in a shootout to Detroit, the Red Wings’ playoff aspirations were quelled for an eighth consecutive season. Washington earned the final Eastern Conference wild-card berth after defeating Philadelphia, scoring the winning goal when the desperate Flyers pulled their goalie.

Montreal completed its campaign with a 30-36-16 record, good for 76 points. But the Canadiens also finished last in the Atlantic Division for a third straight season.

The Canadiens won 31 games last season but garnered only 68 points, thanks to 45 regulation defeats and six more in overtime or shootouts. And in 2021-22, Montreal hit rock bottom, going 22-49-11 for 55 points.

Progress is increasing a team’s points total. But it’s also measured in playoff appearances and gate revenue. Isn’t that correct, Geoff Molson?

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He gets it. Always has, always will: Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis ensured defenceman Logan Mailloux, recalled on Monday night following a successful season with the Laval Rocket, was part of the starting lineup. Mailloux, 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, was selected 31st overall by Montreal in 2021. He has 14 goals and 47 points in 70 games this season along with 89 penalty minutes. His skating is awkward, but he’ll eventually be a full-time NHL player.

News you need: Before the Red Wings’ playoff drought started in 2016, the franchise qualified for post-season play 25 straight seasons — the third-longest run in NHL history. If the Canadiens go another five seasons without a playoff appearance, Montreal hockey fans will go apoplectic.

He hardly needs the money: In the game’s second minute, there was a nice give-and-go between Cole Caufield and Juraj Slafkovsky, the latter somehow missing an open net. The goal would have been Slafkovsky’s 20th this season and earned him a US$250,000 bonus. Slafkovsky, still on his entry-level contract, is earning US$950,000.

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A Danny Gallivan spinorama: Early in the game rookie defenceman Lane Hutson, playing his second game for Montreal, completed a nice dipsy-doodle inside the Detroit blue line against Patrick Kane, his boyhood idol.

Hit of the night (Part I): Jayden Struble, who has the body of a linebacker, crunched Austin Czarnik behind the Canadiens’ net in the opening period.

Hit of the night (Part II): Midway through the opening period, 5-foot-8 and 175-pound Caufield took out defenceman Simon Edvinsson, a mere 6-foot-6 and 209 pounds.

Pass of the night: Brendan Gallagher to Alex Newhook on the game’s opening goal at 11:32 of the first period, completing a two-on-one break.

Milestones: Newhook recorded career highs in goals (15) and points (34) this season in 55 games.

Turnover of the night: Veteran defenceman David Savard’s pass up the middle was intercepted and eventually resulted in Detroit’s opening goal, a blue-line blast from defenceman Moritz Seider, late in the opening period.

Game of inches (Part I): Alex DeBrincat hit the post in the opening minute of the second period.

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Best move of the night not resulting in a goal: Joel Armia went around a sliding Jeff Petry with a nifty toe drag move. While his shot was stopped by James Reimer, the puck lay in the crease and was tapped home by Gallagher, giving the Canadiens a 2-1 lead at 6:17 of the second period. Armia deserved more than an assist. Gallagher, meanwhile, ended the season on a heater, scoring five goals and eight points in his last five games, including four points in a 24-hour period.

Game of inches (Part II): Newhook hit the post midway through the period.

This is why hockey players have sticks: Mike Matheson lost his on Detroit’s second goal.

Momentum, schmomentum: Thirty-six seconds after Caufield provided Montreal with a 3-1 lead midway through the second period, Joe Veleno narrowed the deficit to one goal.

Go figure: Detroit entered the game tied for 11th in the NHL for most penalties (309). Somehow the Red Wings didn’t take one Monday night against the Canadiens and avoided their first on Tuesday until late in the second period, when Christian Fischer slashed Mailloux.

How not to play net: Daniel Sprong was behind the goal line in the corner to the left of Cayden Primeau when his harmless-looking shot deflected into the net off the netminder early in the third period, tying the score 3-3. Primeau still stopped 36 shots — and faced 19 alone in the third period — for a .900 save percentage. Nothing wrong with that.

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The cheque’s in the mail: Slafkovsky scored his 20th, deflecting Hutson’s shot from the blue line with less than eight minutes remaining in regulation time.

It just wasn’t his night: With Reimer pulled, Savard iced the puck with 7.7 seconds remaining. Off the ensuing faceoff — Dylan Larkin beat Jake Evans — David Perron tied the game with 4.1 seconds remaining.

Strange, but true: Each of the four meetings between these teams this season went to overtime or a shootout.

Slow learners: After squandering a 4-1 lead Monday at Detroit, the Canadiens blew a 3-1 advantage 24 hours later. Montreal went 17-11-16 in one-goal games this season.

Next time, decline the penalty: The Canadiens went 0-for-3 on the power play.

They said it: “It felt like playoff hockey out there,” Mailloux said. “Obviously it didn’t go our way, but it was a good game. Having my family here, they got to come up today and watch that. That was pretty special for sure.”

“That was an expensive goal,” Slafkovsky quipped. “It’s pretty cool. I’m happy. I don’t know.

“Those are the game we want to play. The games that matter. It feels good to be out there and get the experience. Now we have to learn how to manage the game.”

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