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Just like the old days for rebuilt Canadiens as they prepare for playoffs

The Canadian Press
By:
The Hockey News
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Just like the old days for rebuilt Canadiens as they prepare for playoffs

The Canadian Press
By:

MONTREAL - Coach Guy Carbonneau's smile of satisfaction spoke volumes about what his Montreal Canadiens accomplished this season.

A 3-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday gave the Canadiens a final regular-season record of 47-25-10, good for 104 points, their highest total since Carbonneau was a player in 1988-89.

They led the NHL in goal-scoring with 262, the first time they've done that since the last of their dynasty years in 1978-79.

And they will start the playoffs at home for the first time since 1992 against the old rival they have dominated recently and over the decades - the Boston Bruins.

All that from a club that few picked even to make the playoffs last fall.

"It's been a dream year," said Carbonneau. "In our room, we believed we could make the playoffs.

"We felt we had a good team. Was it better than I expected? definitely. It was fun, and the fun part about it was that while individuals had good seasons, we had team chemistry. We really pulled together. I really believe in that."

Carbonneau gave his team the day off Sunday to savour its accomplishment. But work starts Monday afternoon on preparing for the Bruins.

The Canadiens went 8-0-0 against Boston this season, with only the last of the wins March 22 at the Bell Centre coming in overtime or a shootout. They outscored them 39-16. Montreal has now beaten the Bruins 11 straight times dating to last season.

While Canadiens players were quick to point out that regular-season records are meaningless once the post-season begins, history does make Montreal a heavy favourite.

The Canadiens are 23-7 in playoff series all-time against Boston, including 18 series in a row between 1946 and 1987. Since then, the Bruins hold a 5-3 edge, but Montreal won the last two in 2002 and 2004.

"Boston and Montreal have a long history and there's going to be a lot of emotion," said defenceman Mark Streit. "It's going to be a physical series.

"We did well against them, but we start over now. We'll need our A-game to beat them."

The Canadiens go into the series on a high with an 8-1-1 record in their last 10 games, including wins in their last three, and 18-6-1 in their last 25 games.

Since the deal that send veteran goaltender Cristobal Huet to Washington at the Feb. 26 trade deadline, the team has gone 14-3-1 and rookie Carey Price has a record of 12-3-0.

The 20-year-old, who came out of junior hockey to lead Montreal's top farm club the Hamilton Bulldogs to an AHL championship last spring, will now be called upon to lead the big club in the NHL playoffs.

When asked if he was nervous, Price said "maybe a little, but I'll get over it in the first couple of minutes.

"It's just another step. I'm climbing the wall pretty fast and hopefully we can keep climbing. I'm really looking forward to playing."

Price, who backed up Huet for most of the first half and did a short stint back in Hamilton in January, ended the season with 24-12-3 record.

The team was led by right-winger Alex Kovalev, who had 84 points (including 35 goals), the most points by a Canadien since Pierre Turgeon had 96 points in 1995-96.

Three young forwards, centre Tomas Plekanec, with 29 goals and 69 points, Christopher Higgins with 27 goals and Andrei Kostitsyn with 26, had their best seasons to date.

The loss of defenceman Sheldon Souray to free agency last summer was supposed to weaken the league's top power play but Montreal led the league again in that department with Streit on the right point. The Swiss veteran had a career-high 62 points playing both forward and defence.

"Last year we started work on our passing - we did as much as possible in practices - and our transition game improved," said Carbonneau, surely a candidate for coach-of-the-year honours. "You can't look at our team and say we're an offensive power, but our overall game was better and we had some individuals who had great seasons.

"We had seven players with 50 or more points, so our offence was well distributed."

Despite some late-season setbacks, they should be healthy going into the playoffs.

Shut-down defenceman Mike Komisarek missed the last seven games with a hip injury, but has resumed practising and expects to be ready. Captain Saku Koivu has a fractured bone in his left foot, but may also be fit to start the playoffs.

Francis Bouillon (ankle) and Michael Ryder (leg) are also expected to be ready.

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Just like the old days for rebuilt Canadiens as they prepare for playoffs