NEW YORK â€” The most painful of truths are the ones that are self-realized.
And so, it fell to Claude Julien to be candid during a moment of raw disappointment.
“We weren’t good enough,” Julien said after his Montreal Canadiens lost 3-1 to the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarter-finals Saturday.
The Canadiens dropped the best-of-seven series 4-2. The Rangers will meet the winner of the Boston-Ottawa series. The Senators lead that series 3-2 with Game 6 set for Sunday at TD Garden.
“We needed more,” said Julien, who added the Canadiens “had offence. We just lacked finish.”
Mats Zuccarello scored two goals in an 11:05 span in the second period and Derek Stepan added an empty-netter with 17.8 seconds left. Henrik Lundqvist made 27 saves.
Alexei Emelin scored Montreal’s lone goal. Carey Price made 20 saves.
Trailing 1-0 at the start of the second period, it only took 2:26 for New York to draw even on Zuccarello’s power-play goal. Zuccarello’s shot from the left face-off dot appeared to sneak through Price’s body. After the puck went in, Price first turned to look in the net, and then looked at his glove.
Zuccarello’s two goals marked his first career multi-goal game in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The goal was the second of the series for Zuccarello, and New York’s first on 15 power plays over the course of the six games.
“It’s not every day you beat Carey Price,” Zuccarello said. “It (was) a nice power-play goal.
“That was big for us.”
Zuccarello put New York ahead for good at 13:31 with his second of the game. The right winger out-positioned Jordie Benn alongside Price at the near post, and redirected a Kevin Hayes centring feed.
“It was a really good play by (J.T. Miller and Hayes),” Zuccarello said. “I was the lucky one to finish off the rush.”
Lundqvist made the slim lead hold up. His most important save came late in regulation when he made a pad stop on Tomas Plekanec with a little more than minute remaining.
“It was a desperation save,” said Lundqvist, who finished the series with a 1.70 goals-against average, .947 save percentage and a shutout.
“I knew with two minutes to go it was going to be one or two mores saves and if I could come up with those we would be in good shape.”
The most galling aspect of the series for Montreal was that it led 2-1 after the first three games, and had a lead in Game 6.
Montreal led 1-0 at the first intermission on the strength of Emelin’s first career goal in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The 30-year old defenceman controlled Alexander Radulov’s diving pass at the top of the circle, then took a couple strides before whipping a shot that beat Lundqvist high to the glove side.
But that was all the Canadiens would get.
“It’s a bitter disappointment,” Price said. “We couldn’t catch a break all series.
“We thought we could have gone further.”
Emelin’s goal came exactly 1:28 after Max Pacioretty fought Jimmy Vesey. The sequence began with Ryan McDonagh and Radulov engaged in some post-whistle shoving and, at the blue line, Pacioretty traded punches with Vesey. Both received five minutes for fighting, plus both received additional two-minute minors – Pacioretty for cross-checking and Vesey for roughing. The fight was the fifth of Pacioretty’s career and his first playoff bout.
Pacioretty recorded four shots on goal and attempted another eight in the game. He entered the elimination game leading the NHL in shots on goal in the playoffs with 24, but he finished the series without a goal and one assist.
“The chances were there,” Pacioretty said. “I take full responsibility.”
The Canadiens entered 2016-17 with a healthy Price, and added Shea Weber and Radulov in the off-season. Montreal ended up winning the Atlantic Division, but made a coaching change in February, replacing Michel Therrien with Claude Julien following a stretch in which the Canadiens lost 25-of-43 games.
“(It) definitely feels like a missed opportunity,” Pacioretty said.
Notes: Following the morning skate, Julien announced Andrew Shaw would miss the game with an upper-body injury. Julien also said Brandon Davidson would replace Nathan Beaulieu on defence.
Denis P. Gorman, The Canadian Press