No, wait. Scratch that. Why is it the losing team always has to be branded as chokers? Isn't it possible the game was taken away from them?
That's really what happened here. With not much to play for other than pride, the Islanders -- mathematically eliminated from postseason contention 24 hours earlier -- took over the game and won. As a result, Montreal's party will have to wait until at least Thursday when they play in Carolina.
"It's very disappointing, for sure," said Montreal head coach Jacques Martin after the game. "Especially when we were so close to clinching. But we knew what we were going to get from the Islanders. They play hard every night and they really came at us tonight."
Said Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges: "(The Islanders) play with a lot of pride. On top of that, they were playing without any pressure. We knew there was no way they were going to lay down and die."
The Canadiens blew ... I mean, the Islanders impressively overcame a pair of one-goal deficits in the third period. Trailing 2-1 at the start, Sean Bergenheim danced around Roman Hamrlik for a highlight reel goal just two minutes into the final period to tie the game. When Maxim Lapierre split New York defenders Jack Hillen and Mark Flood and wristed a shot past Martin Biron at 6:20 of the third, it looked like the 3-2 lead would hold the rest of the way.
Since the New York Rangers lost in Buffalo, 5-2, the Canadiens would have sealed an Eastern Conference playoff berth if they left the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum with two points. As the minutes ticked off, the large contingent of Canadiens fans in the announced crowd of 10,263 -- decked out in Les Habitants jersey, singing "Ole, Ole" and mocking Biron with roars of "Bee-rawn" -- stood and cheered in anticipation of the clinch.
The Islanders declined to host a party on their home ice.
"I didn't even realize the Canadiens would have won a playoff spot until they told me after the game," said Biron, a Quebec native. "But this feels good, to be the spoiler. I really think we deserved it."
The Islanders did, based on out-playing Montreal for most of the first and third periods. Frustrated by New York's forecheck, the Canadiens were out-shot 15-5 in the first period. Not the way you'd expect a playoff team to come out of the locker room with so much on the line.
"They were much better than us in the first," said Martin. "We were not good in the first and they were excellent." Big-hitting defenseman Ryan O'Byrne tried to wake up his team with some jolting checks on Islanders forwards. "There were times I don't think we were totally into the game. I tried to do my part."
It worked, as Montreal got goals by Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta to take a 2-1 lead. But it was not enough.
The Islanders were too much. For at least one night, give credit to the winners who wanted it just a little bit more. The Canadiens have other chances this week to prove they are playoff-worthy.