The Montreal Canadiens tried to focus on the positive on Saturday after a roller-coaster season that saw the team finish a surprising second in the Eastern Conference, then quickly bow out in the playoffs.
Despite getting knocked out by the Ottawa Senators in five games, Habs players said there is much to build on for next year with a strong core group and the emergence of youngsters like Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk.
Gallagher is nominated for the Calder Trophy for best rookie. Galchenyuk, only 19, showed flashes of brilliance in his first year.
P.K. Subban, meanwhile, is nominated for the Norris Trophy for best defenceman.
“We’ve got some great young talent,” said veteran defenceman Josh Gorges, as the Canadiens met the media for a final time this season at their practice facility in Brossard, Que.
“We’ve gotta make sure that we really learn from this year and we keep growing, and then next year we’ll have to pull it together.”
First, though, many of the Habs will need to set aside some time to heal.
The team offered up more information on Saturday about the injuries that piled up during its short playoff stint.
Ryan White said he punctured a lung during Game 3 of the series, while Francis Bouillon revealed he was playing with a broken finger suffered in an April 11 fight against the Buffalo Sabres’ Steve Ott.
Forward Brandon Prust hurt his ribs in Game 4 against the Senators and will undergo an MRI on his shoulder in the coming days.
Goaltender Carey Price suffered a sprained MCL in his knee in Game 4, which will take about six weeks to recover.
It’s the second year in a row that Price has finished the season with an injury. Last year he sat out with a concussion.
Price became a lightning rod for criticism as he slumped through the final weeks of the season and admitted it was a challenge to take on the Sens’ hot-handed goalie Craig Anderson.
“The way it ended leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” Price said.
“We’ll just have to use that motivation to make bigger strides next year.”
Price said he wants to come back stronger next year, with his eye on earning a spot on the Canadian Olympic team in Sochi, Russia.
“There’s a lot of positives to take out of this season,” Price said.
“We want to find the areas we need to improve to make this team a champion.”
For now, Habs players will seek out glory at the international level.
Several Habs are joining their national teams at the World Championships underway in Sweden.
Galchenyuk will play for the United States and Tomas Plekanec will play for the Czech Republic, while Raphael Diaz plans to join the Swiss team once he gets a green light from the Habs’ medical staff.
Subban hasn’t received a call to join Team Canada. General manager Steve Yzerman has said he doesn’t plan to add more players to the team.
After missing the start of the season before signing a two-year, $5.75-million contract, Subban attributed his own strong year to the team’s improved play.
“I think you see individual success when you focus on the team,” he said.
“When a team goes from 15th place to second in the conference it’s not because one guy or two guys.
“Everybody was on the same page.”
Meanwhile, Lars Eller, who left Game 1 on a stretcher after an illegal hit to the head from Eric Gryba, said he’s had no symptoms for three or four days. Eller said he’ll be ready for next season.
He rejected any suggestion the Habs need to get bigger to compete in the playoffs against teams like the Sens or Boston Bruins.
“I don’t think you need clear-cut heavyweight fighters or anything like that,” Eller said.
“I think most of all you need good hockey players and people to have the right attitude, the desire to win.”
Note: GM Marc Bergevin will address the media on Monday.