MONTREAL — There were some fans who paid as little as $6 on the secondary market Sunday to watch two teams play at the Bell Centre who are all but mathematically eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoff race. Not even they got their money’s worth.
This was no barnburner. It wasn’t even a toaster fire.
The Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens skated scoreless for the first 36 minutes of the game before the former broke through twice in the span of two minutes and 57 seconds. The Flames added a third goal halfway through the third period.
A fourth came less than two minutes later. That’s when thousands of people made their way towards the exits.
Those who remained were rewarded. With 7:03 left in the game, 2013 first-rounder Michael McCarron tipped home his first goal as a Canadien to make the final score 4-1.
“They saluted me pretty well,” said McCarron. “I just want to thank them, they were awesome. I hadn’t heard the building that loud in a while.”
But you could hear a pin drop in the Bell Centre for the other 59 minutes of Sunday’s game.
A year ago, the fans in attendance were bracing themselves for their team’s third consecutive playoff run, a seventh in eight years. They were cheering on a team that was on its way to achieving 50 wins and the NHL’s second-best record — their voices so loud they shook the building.
These days, the yawns are more audible than the cheers coming from the Bell Centre faithful who pay to watch the cobbled-together-22nd-best Canadiens. You wonder how many of the players they recognize, considering 11 of Montreal’s regulars are currently sidelined by injury.
Forward Sven Andrighetto and defenceman Victor Bartley added themselves to the list of wounded Habs before Sunday’s game. Joel Hanley — an undrafted, unheard of player — took the latter’s place and played 20 shifts by night’s end.
“Practically all of our players aren’t in the right chair,” said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien in French. “It’s already hard enough to win when everyone is in the right chair, let alone when 11 elements are missing.
“It makes things more difficult.”
Canadiens forwards Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty were slotted into their customary roles on the team’s top line, but they were a combined minus-4 Sunday. They also combined for just four shots on net — only one of which was a scoring chance. Neither did much to boost the entertainment value of this game.
#Habs Max Pacioretty has a -51 decline in plus minus from this season to last season (+38 last season, -13 this season).
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) March 20, 2016
The Flames came into town as the NHL’s weakest defensive team, by the numbers (3.09 goals against per game).
They started goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who hadn’t appeared in an NHL contest in 14 months. He nearly left the building with a shutout.
The Canadiens mustered just 22 shots on net, 14 of which came while the seats were still somewhat full.
At the other end of the ice, rookie goaltender Mike Condon was playing in his 48th game of the season.
“This is the most that [Condon’s] played in his [hockey] career,” said Therrien. “We didn’t plan this, obviously, at the beginning of the year. But that’s a reality.”
The reality is that Price, who is always worth the cost of admission, has been absent for all but five of Montreal’s home games this season. And P.K. Subban, Montreal’s most electrifying player, has been noticeably absent for Montreal’s last three at the Bell Centre.
Subban is likely to return this week. But if Price doesn’t make an appearance in Montreal’s final five home games, scalpers will have a hard time giving tickets away.
The good news is the entertainment value can only increase with the playoff-bound Anaheim Ducks, New York Rangers, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning scheduled for visits from here to the end of the season.