That looks to be how the Canadiens will ultimately qualify for this year's playoffs because the Florida Panthers are letting it happen.
The Habs 3-1 loss in New York on Tuesday night was nothing anyone should be overly shocked about, and the sting was lessened by Florida's 2-1 loss in Philly. Bob Gainey essentially put all his eggs in one basket on Monday when he overtaxed his best players in an all-out effort to grab that win against the Senators. When that was given away in a 38-second span in the third, the game in New York was already all but lost.
The Canadiens put up a pretty good effort considering the circumstances, playing fatigued against a rested team in a building that is not very kind to them without Andrei Markov and Mathieu Schneider, but ultimately it was for naught.
There are definitely disappointing aspects to the loss, starting with the play of Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec, who were non-factors once again. Plekanec's case is more complex because I don't think anyone can accuse him of not working and not wanting to be better. He simply doesn't know how to do it.
But in Kostitsyn's case, he has absolutely no idea how the effort level is supposed to increase at this time of year, how this is the time for him to take his physical gifts and put them into hyperdrive, how coasting through the neutral zone wen rushing with the puck just won't cut it anymore. Being a healthy scratch didn't help him grasp the concept of high-intensity hockey, seemingly.
The third member of that line, Matt D'Agostini, had his moments Tuesday night and I would say played a pretty fair game, but there's not a whole lot you can do when your linemates are bumping into each other and sticking to the boards as if they were magnetized.
Gainey had to spread the minutes on defence, especially after it became blatantly obvious that Mike Komisarek was too drained from his 26-plus minutes on Monday night to be remotely effective with the puck. If indeed Markov and Schneider are not available for the near future, Komisarek will have to log at least 24 minutes a night, so his reaction Tuesday was not a very encouraging sign. He did, however, have a potential game-changing moment when he drilled Sean Avery cutting into the slot with his head down, but the hit didn't have the desired effect.
Carey Price made 41 saves, and if you look at that number in a vacuum you'd have to say that was a pretty good night's work. But the Nik Antropov goal in the second was a backbreaker, one his team could not afford to allow, and those are mistakes Price simply can't make if he wants to be considered elite. But overall, it was a passable night, especially considering it was his first game in a week.
Finally, when your fourth line is your best line, there's trouble brewing.
But again, the Canadiens should not get totally depressed over the loss because they were in the game throughout that first period, but when the Rangers went up a gear in the second, the Habs couldn't keep up.
In Boston on Thursday night that may not necessarily be the case, especially if Mathieu Schneider is deemed fit to play by whatever doctor he is seeing on this road trip for a second opinion on his shoulder, but a win there is still a tall order.
But even if the Habs lose in Boston on Thursday and finish the season by losing at home to Pittsburgh on Saturday, all they need is a single loss by the Florida Panthers - whether it's in regulation or not - against either the Atlanta Thrashers or Washington Capitals to qualify for the post-season. Or if the Rangers get swept in their home-and-home with the Flyers to close out the season, even if one of those losses are in overtime, the Habs would still make it because they have the tie-breaker on the Rangers.
Both those scenarios are very plausible, a lot more so than the Habs managing a victory in their final two games without Markov and Schneider. Unfortunately, it's looking more and more like the Habs will be doing a lot of scoreboard watching between now and Saturday, because their playoff lives may very well be in someone else's hands.
But that should really be nothing for the Canadiens to be ashamed of because they've earned this right to back in with a very solid week of work last week. Except it doesn't raise too many hopes of a first-round playoff win either.