TORONTO – The Montreal Canadiens were already in playoff mode at this time last year.
They needed a point in the final regular season game against the Toronto Maple Leafs just to qualify for a post-season that saw them go on a charmed run to the Eastern Conference final. Having already clinched a berth this time around, there was a much more relaxed atmosphere heading into Game No. 82 at Air Canada Centre on Saturday (CBC, 7 p.m. ET).
“It’s for sure a different mindset,” Habs forward Michael Cammalleri said Friday after practice. “Last year that was much too much for everybody’s nerves.”
With nerves intact, the team is viewing the game as a warmup act for the second season.
Coach Jacques Martin is planning to have a fairly complete lineup—forward Travis Moen and defenceman Hal Gill are questionable after missing practice Friday—and Carey Price will get the start in goal. It will be the 72nd appearance he’s made during his finest NHL season.
The Canadiens have had some indifferent play down the stretch and are coming off a 3-2 overtime loss in Ottawa. It’s time to sharpen up.
“We know that we have to have our ‘A’ game,” said Martin. “Tomorrow night, you look at how the Leafs have played lately, they really gave a strong push to get into the playoffs. You know that they’ll be ready.
“What we want is good execution.”
With nothing in particular riding on the regular season finale, there’s a danger of looking past it. A number of Habs were asked Friday about which team they’d like to face in the first round—heated rival Boston is the most likely opponent—while most of the conversation around the Maple Leafs was centred around next season.
Toronto is playing out the string once again but hopes to make one final positive statement about the direction of the franchise.
“Obviously, we’d like to play an important game right now,” said Leafs goalie James Reimer, who is 20-9-5 on the season. “Unfortunately, we’re out of the playoffs. But having said that, it’s a big game. It’s the last home game, you want to leave a good taste in the fan’s mouth, with management, and you want to put on a good show.
“We’ll be ready to go.”
It promises to be a big night for Joe Colborne, who will centre Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel during his NHL debut. The 21-year-old prospect arrived from Boston in the Tomas Kaberle trade and made a pretty good impact during 19 games with the AHL Marlies.
He learned of the callup on Thursday night.
“I was pumped,” said Colborne, who will wear No. 32. “I mean I’ve worked my whole life for this. A lot of people helped get me here, so it’s been a lot of phone calls and texts thanking people for helping get me here. I can’t thank the organization enough.”
Toronto started its season back in October with a 3-2 victory over Montreal and the teams went on to split their next four meetings.
The Leafs are assured of finishing 10th in the Eastern Conference—their highest position since coach Ron Wilson was hired in 2009—while the Canadiens can wrap up sixth spot with a victory on Saturday. However, getting the highest seed possible isn’t a priority.
“Come playoff time, I don’t think it matters where you’re seeded,” said Montreal defenceman P.K. Subban. “I think every team will tell you that. Even the team’s in first place, they’ll tell you it’s a new season.”
Instead, the focus will be on doing all of the little things right.
“I think that habits are something that are created,” said Cammalleri. “You can’t just break them easily and you can’t just earn good habits easily either. It’s important that we try and play a good strong game tomorrow to give us that.”
Montreal has gone just 6-7-1 over the last couple weeks—another difference from last season. They were extremely hot in March a year ago (finishing 9-4-4 in their last 17 games) and carried that momentum into the spring playoff run.
They aren’t concerned about the recent swoon because they’ve managed to win some big wins, including a 2-1 overtime victory over Chicago earlier this week.
“We’ve won the important ones—that’s all that really matters,” said Price.
The biggest games of them all are just around the corner.