The long-form story has not changed.
The Montreal Canadiens have enjoyed one of the most dramatic one-season turnarounds in recent memory by rising from 15th and dead last in the Eastern Conference to second place in the Eastern Conference.
That story line has been trumpeted since midseason, and, with less than a week to go in the regular season, it's still fruitful.
However, the Canadiens have been having big problems since they clinched a playoff spot last week.
They may still hold the Northeast Division lead, but they are no longer chasing the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have clinched first place overall in the Eastern Conference. The Habs have lost four of their last five games, and they have done it in decisive fashion.
The Canadiens have been outscored 23-9 in those four losses. The goaltending and defense, which were so effective throughout the majority of the season, have been abominable during the losing streak. Carey Price, who should be the backbone of the team in goal, has been struggling to stop even the softest shots.
Price has dropped to 29th in the NHL in goals-against average. He is allowing 2.59 goals per game, and he has a .905 save percentage and a 20-12-4 record. In his last six games, his save percentages have been .889, .250, .793, .850, .943 and .800
In the Canadiens' 5-1 home loss to Washington Saturday night, Canadiens fans gave Price mock applause when he stopped a second-period flip shot in the second period. The Canadiens were trailing 4-0 at the time.
The only win in the five-game dip was a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 18. In that game, the Canadiens took a 2-0 lead on the non-playoff-bound Lightning. Tampa Bay rallied to tie the game with goals in the second and third periods, but Montreal got a goal from Brian Gionta to give it a moment of peace.
Are the Canadiens in a temporary slump or have they been exposed at the wrong time of the season?
While fans don't like what they are seeing from Montreal in its most recent games, can it really wash away a season of solid play?
Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges is among those who are concerned that his team is going through more than a temporary slump. After the loss to the Capitals—the second home defeat to the Capitals in 11 days—Gorges labeled his team as "soft" (via TSN.ca).
Gorges says the Canadiens have to address this situation in the final week of the regular season if they are going to have an opportunity to turn things around in the postseason.
"We have to do that especially this week," Gorges told TSN.ca. "I've been through enough (to know) you can't just show up in Game One of the playoffs and think 'now I'm going to start playing, now our team's going to click.'
"That doesn't work. We have to make sure we're prepared this week and have the effort. If we get scored on, so what? We have to bounce back and have that championship mentality."
That's not panic. That's a straight-forward assessment that there are serious problems in Montreal, which could undo all the excellent work accomplished during the majority of the regular season.
What Gorges didn't—or couldn't—say was that Price must wake up and start playing the way a star goalie is expected to play.
If Price does not show some improvement, the Canadiens will get bounced in the first round no matter who they play.
Last year, the Pittsburgh Penguins found this out when they got bounced in the first round by the Philadelphia Flyers. Yes, the Penguins' defense made a series of mistakes, but goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was horrid. He couldn't have stopped a beach ball against the Flyers, and the team that many thought would win the Eastern Conference was sent home in humiliating fashion.
Price and backup Peter Budaj have to wake up, and the Canadiens' defense has to stop playing giveaway.
Gorges is right about the timing. The Canadiens have one week to get their game back together.
If not, a remarkable season will be remembered for its painful finish.