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Canadiens endure nervy times with trade rumours, playoff race

MONTREAL - The Montreal Canadiens awoke to some jarring headlines on Thursday morning.

One said, "Hossa Getting Closer To Montreal," heralding an imminent trade for Atlanta Thrashers star Marian Hossa, and another that roughly translates as "You Can Smell The (Stanley) Cup," a reference to the team's strong play and lofty spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

Coach Guy Carbonneau didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

"It's like (general manager) Bob Gainey said this morning - everyone should take a pill and settle down a bit," said Carbonneau. "It's fun, the team's doing well, but there's a lot of games left before the end of the season.

"Until we see that little asterisk next to our name that says we've made the playoffs, we can't let up."

Canadiens fans are certainly excited these days, especially after the team came back from a 5-0 deficit to defeat the New York Rangers 6-5 in a shootout on Tuesday night. The win kept them in the battle with Ottawa and New Jersey for top spot in the conference.

For a team that most experts picked to miss the playoff for a second straight season, these are heady times.

"For sure, we have a team that can do some damage," added Carbonneau. "I never said we're going to win the Stanley Cup, but right now, the team's playing well.

"I like the team we have. There's no reason shouldn't make the playoffs and then we can go from there. But I won the Cup three times and I know how hard it is. There's a long way to go to get there."

Rumours grow daily of an impending trade for a star scorer who may make the club even stronger. Gainey said this week he was seeking an "impact player" before the league dealing deadline on Tuesday, and he is believed to be pursuing a move vigorously, possibly for Hossa or Calgary Flames winger Alex Tanguay.

One report Thursday said the Canadiens had ordered equipment made to Hossa's measurements, although that turned out to be a pair of gloves with the name Hossa on them that were destined for his brother, New York Rangers forward Marcel Hossa.

The gloves, in colours similar to Montreal's, were delivered to the Canadiens by mistake when the Rangers were in town.

Still, the trade talk is unsettling for many players, particularly those whose names come up frequently, like wingers Michael Ryder and Chris Higgins and defencemen Mathieu Dandenault and Mark Streit.

"I try not to follow it," said Ryder, a two-time 30-goal scorer who has struggled for most of the season. "I hear most of the rumours, but I try to avoid all that.

"It's out of my control, so if it happens, it happens. But the closer it gets, the guys get a little nervous."

Carbonneau doesn't like it either, but he knows that in a hockey-mad city, rumours are going to crop up and be debated endlessly.

"It's hard for the players," he said. "It's probably the same in Toronto and Atlanta and Florida.

"Obviously the market we have here and in Toronto makes it a bit bigger. It's annoying. I'm sure some of the guys are nervous, even if they don't hear their names, because they think something's going to happen. A lot of names have been thrown out that sometimes don't make sense, but that's the life in hockey or in sports."

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