All things considered, it was a game that meant very little in the standings.
The Montreal Canadiens were in. The Toronto Maple Leafs were out. And other than the small question of playoff seeding - sixth or seventh - for the Habs, there wasn't much to play for.
That was how the Leafs appeared to approach the game, too, and it was the Canadiens that came out on top in Game 82 for both teams, winning 4-1 Saturday night mainly due to the efforts of captain Brian Gionta, who scored twice, and netminder Carey Price.
The victory brings Montreal to 96 points on the year, locking up the sixth seed and a date with the Boston Bruins in what should be the series to watch in the first round.
"The rivalry matchup, it's one of those series there will be a lot of eyes and a lot of talk about and all those things," Habs forward Mike Cammalleri said. "Boston's a team that probably has a lot of high expectations internally. So they're going to come out expecting to win. We are going to feel the same way."
The Leafs, meanwhile, finished the year with three straight losses and only 85 points, eight short of the final postseason berth in their sixth consecutive miss.
One team certainly looked more playoff ready than the other on the ice, with the Leafs coughing up at least a handful of breakaways and the Canadiens only too happy to take advantage.
"Our defence really had one of their worst games of the year, in general," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said.
"We didn't play our best game," Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. "I think you could see it in our group the last two games, we were a little bit deflated coming off that [playoff]push. It's disappointing. We gave everything that we had down the stretch and I think we had a little bit of a let down the last few games."
It was the Habs who struck first, with checker Ryan White dribbling the puck between James Reimer's legs 2:29 into the game on a goal the Leafs rookie should have had.
Four minutes later, it was 2-0, as Gionta wired a one-timer from the slot after Toronto's penalty killers left him wide open.
The Leafs clawed back to within a goal late in the period. After taking a short pass from rookie centre Joe Colborne, who picked up his first NHL point on the play, Phil Kessel took the puck on a rush from his own blueline and slipped in his 32nd of the season on what turned out to be the only mistake for Carey Price on the night.
Price then stoned Kessel on a breakaway in the second to maintain the lead, one of several stops he had to make as the Leafs started to chip away at Montreal's advantage on the shot clock.
Moments after Kessel's chance, Nazem Kadri rang a shot off the post, but the play went back the other way and Reimer had to make a terrific pad save on Cammalleri alone in front.
With Darryl Boyce in the box for roughing and time winding down in the middle frame, however, Montreal finally capitalized, with Gionta tapping in his second of the game on the lip of the crease.
There was some intrigue involved late, with Kessel appearing to pull Toronto to within one with 11 minutes to play, but a video review of the play wasn't able to conclusively show the puck crossed the line before Price scooped it out of the goal.
Canadiens centre Tomas Plekanec finally put things out of reach a few minutes later, streaking in on a shorthanded breakaway and scoring the 4-1 goal high over Reimer's blocker to cap the regular season with a win.
(That brought on a rousing rendition of "Ole, Ole, Ole" from the many Habs fans in attendance, followed by booing from the few Leafs supporters who stuck around until the bitter end.)
More concerned with next season at this point, Leafs GM Brian Burke used the game to debut two prospects in 6-foot-5 centre Colborne and Hobey Baker runner-up Matt Frattin, both recent NCAA grads auditioning for roles for 2011-12.
The pair didn't look all that out of place, either, with Colborne getting some time on the power play and Frattin putting five shots on the Habs goal.
"It was quite the experience," Colborne said. "Definitely in the first period, I think the nerves kind of caught up to me after the last couple days. I haven't been sleeping too well obviously."
"I had a ton of chances," Frattin said. "I could have had a couple tonight. Hopefully a good sign of things to come."
"They both played well," Wilson added.
Phaneuf said after the game that he feels the Leafs can look back on how they played in the season's second half and take some good out of yet another playoff miss.
"The run that we went on after the all-star break was a really good building block for our team," he said. "Having such a young team and playing in such important games, I think it's really going to help us next year. You could see how a lot of the guys matured."
Far from talk about next season, the discussion in the Habs' dressing room was all about the Bruins, a team Price said they were all more than willing to face in a series that likely begins on Thursday.
"What we need to do is go toe-to-toe with them, try to get them to take penalties and kill them with our power play," he said. "They're a physical team with a lot of size and a lot of depth."Report Typo/Error