TORONTO – The regular season had barely ended before the heat got turned up on the Montreal Canadiens.
Just moments after beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1 on Saturday, the Habs found out they’d drawn the rival Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs. After everything that went on between those teams this year, it promises to be an intense series.
“They play with a lot of fire,” said Montreal goalie Carey Price. “It’s just going to be good old-fashioned hockey.”
No one can accuse the Canadiens of trying to avoid Boston, which won the last meeting between the teams 7-0 on March 24. The victory over Toronto on Saturday cemented the matchup as it gave Montreal the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Naturally, most of the post-game talk was centred around what is to come.
“I’m just excited for the opportunity,” said Canadiens forward Michael Cammalleri. “The rivalry matchup, it’s one of those series where there will be a lot of eyes and a lot of talk about and all those things. Boston’s a team that probably has a lot of high expectations internally.
“So they’re going to come out expecting to win. We are going to feel the same way.”
They’ll arrive in the post-season on a winning note thanks to two goals from captain Brian Gionta—he had a chance to complete the hat trick on a third-period breakaway—and 27 saves from Price.
Montreal has stumbled a little in recent weeks and was looking to finish the regular season on a high note. The Canadiens managed to do that in front of an Air Canada Centre crowd that featured a large contingent of Habs fans, who sang “Ole! Ole! Ole!” as the clock ticked down.
“It was a little better than the Senators game (a 3-2 overtime loss Thursday), but there’s still some things to clean up,” said Gionta.
Ryan White and Tomas Plekanec also scored for Montreal (44-30-8). Phil Kessel replied for the Maple Leafs (37-34-11).
There was a subdued tone to the end of Toronto’s sixth consecutive season out of the playoffs, with more than half the fans already headed for the exits. As good as the team played after the all-star break—finishing 18-9-6—it still ended up seven points out of a playoff spot.
“I feel like we took some steps this year in the right direction,” said Leafs forward Clarke MacArthur. “We don’t want to be a team on the bubble next year … and for that to happen we have to be more consistent and I thought we showed that in the second half.
“It’s upsetting the way we finished the last couple games. But we’re looking forward to a positive season next year and I thought the guys played really well the last couple of months.”
Even though there was virtually nothing riding on the outcome of Saturday’s game, it was a pretty spirited affair. There was hitting, a few scrums after the whistle and some sloppy play from both teams, which led to a number of great scoring chances.
Price had a solid outing to pick up his 38th win of the season, becoming the first Montreal goalie since Ken Dryden in 1976-77 to accomplish that feat. He watched last year’s playoff run from the bench but will likely play a major role in the team’s success or failure this spring.
“He’s got the confidence going,” said Cammalleri. “I think he’s ready—poised and ready.”
His best saves Saturday came against Kessel. Price denied the Leafs winger on a second-period breakaway before stopping him two more times in the third period, once by reaching back with his glove on a play that was subjected to video review.
Montreal dictated the tone of the game early with goals from White and Gionta in the opening seven minutes and never really looked in danger of losing the lead.
“We didn’t play our best game,” said Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. “I think you could see it in our group—we were a little deflated coming off that (playoff) push. It’s disappointing … we gave everything that we had down the stretch and we had a little bit of a letdown the last few games.”
The Canadiens can expect the intensity to be ratcheted up in the coming days. They’ll open the playoffs either Wednesday or Thursday at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston.
Montreal came out on top in four of six meetings between the teams this season, but the two losses were notable. The first, an 8-6 defeat on Feb. 9, was a game that featured several fights and 182 penalty minutes; and the second was the 7-0 loss that came two weeks after Bruins captain Zdeno Chara hit Max Pacioretty into a stanchion at the Bell Centre.
“It’s going to be a good series,” said Price. “There’s history between us.”
Added Cammalleri: “Here we go.”
Notes: Matt Frattin and Joe Colborne each made their NHL debut for the Leafs. … Toronto’s Ron Wilson (1,337) and Montreal’s Jacques Martin (1,262) are sixth and seventh in NHL games coached all-time. … Martin earned his 600th career victory. … Gionta was the only Habs player to appear in all 82 games. … Five Leafs accomplished the feat—Kessel, MacArthur, Luke Schenn, Nikolai Kulemin and Tyler Bozak. … Announced attendance was 19,676.