Stu Cowan: For Canadiens in playoffs, it’s plus ça change …


GM Marc Bergevin hasn’t swayed from his defence-first philosophy since the Canadiens last won a first-round playoff series six years ago.

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It has been six years since the Canadiens won a first-round playoff series.

Six very long years, I imagine, if you’re a big Canadiens fan.

The Canadiens finished the 2014-15 NHL regular season in first place in the Atlantic Division with a 50-22-10 record. Max Pacioretty led the team in scoring that season with 37-30-67 totals, followed by Tomas Plekanec (26-34-60), P.K. Subban (15-45-60) and Andrei Markov (10-40-50).

It was the second straight 100-point season for the Canadiens, who had a 46-28-8 record in 2013-14 to finish third in the Atlantic Division before advancing to the conference final, where they lost in six games to the New York Rangers after Carey Price was injured in Game 1 when Chris Kreider ran into him, taking the goalie out of the series.

In the 2015 playoffs, the Canadiens beat the Ottawa Senators in six games in the first round before losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games in the second round.

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Things have gone downhill for the Canadiens since then. They failed to make the playoffs in 2015-16, were eliminated in the first round by the New York Rangers in 2017 and should have missed the playoffs for the third straight season last year, but got into the expanded post-season format as the 24th and final seed. The Canadiens upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifying round before losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round.

The Canadiens got into the playoffs this season as the fourth and final seed in the all-Canadian North Division with a 24-21-11 record and were trailing the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 in their first-round series heading into Game 4 Tuesday night at the Bell Centre. The Canadiens had scored four goals in the first three games.

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With the Canadiens in danger of going yet another year without winning a playoff series, it’s interesting to look back at what GM Marc Bergevin said after the 2014-15 season came to an end in the second round with a 4-1 loss to the Lightning in Game 6. The Canadiens scored 13 goals in that six-game series, including a 6-2 victory in Game 4. They failed to score more than two goals in any of the other five games.

But when Bergevin met with the media after the Canadiens were eliminated, he said he saw no reason to change his defence-first philosophy.

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“You look at the (Tampa) series, we performed very well,” Bergevin said. “The sixth game was our worst, but we hit 12 or 13 goalposts during the series, our power play wasn’t up to par. Am I ready to hit the reset button because we didn’t beat the Lightning — which are a very good team — no, not at all. If you can’t defend, you have no chance to win. Look at the (New York) Rangers, they’re a team without much firepower and they’re winning games 2-1. That’s the playoffs, we have to be more opportunistic. My philosophy will not change.”

Bergevin obviously hasn’t changed his philosophy, which explains why Cole Caufield was made a healthy scratch for the first two games of the current series against the Maple Leafs.

The lack of a legitimate No. 1 centre was a problem for the Canadiens in 2015 and when asked about it Bergevin said: “Do you want me to trade Carey Price? That’s what it costs to get a big centre.”

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Bergevin said he was hoping to find a No. 1 centre and add more offence through the draft and the team’s development program.

“It’s my goal to make this team better and would I love to have a 25-, 30-goal scorer? I’d love to, but they’re not around,” Bergevin said. “We have some good young offensive players. (Nikita) Scherbak is an offensive player, Charles Hudon had a good season, (Sven) Andrighetto, there’s a whole bunch of them. Hopefully, one of these guys will rise and take that spot.”

Brendan Gallagher, who scored 24 goals in 2014-15, was the one who was able to rise and become a 30-goal scorer, but the Canadiens still don’t have a big No. 1 centre despite selecting Alex Galchenyuk third overall at the 2012 NHL Draft and Jesperi Kotkaniemi third overall in 2018. Nick Suzuki has shown signs he might develop into a legitimate No. 1 centre, while Kotkaniemi was made a healthy scratch for the start of this year’s playoff series against the Leafs.

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Bergevin was able to trade Galchenyuk for Max Domi and then trade Domi for Josh Anderson, which is great, but that didn’t help the situation at centre.

In 2015, Bergevin was confident about his team’s future despite the second-round playoff loss to the Lightning.

“We have a good hockey team, we’re still pretty young,” Bergevin said. “We were one of the eight teams left and there are 22 teams that wish they were where we were. We have to keep positive, drafting well and looking at the big picture down the road.”

That road has been a bumpy ride for the last six years.

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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