MONTREAL – For Habs fans, opening up the newspaper and seeing an “X” next to the Canadiens logo is usually accompanied by a sigh of relief.
Maybe the team has a flair for the dramatic; maybe the competition is just that fierce, but when it comes to clinching a spot in the playoffs, the Canadiens have had a penchant for letting things come down to the wire over the past few years.
Things are different in Montreal this time around. There will be no last-minute heroics required for the Habs to punch their ticket to the springtime dance. With eight games left to play in the shortened season, the Canadiens are already guaranteed to be playing in May.
The early bird clinching marks the team’s best finish since 2007-08, when the Canadiens earned their berth in the postseason with five games left in the regular season. That year, the Habs finished the campaign atop the Eastern Conference with 104 points. In 2011-12, the playoffs were a distant reality by the final month of the season, but in 2008-09 and 2009-10, the team fought right up to the final day of the year to finally earn that coveted “X” in the standings.
In 08-09, patience was a virtue for the Canadiens, who lost their last game of the season 3-1 to the Penguins and had to wait for other teams to determine their fate a day later. In 2009-10, an overtime loss never felt so good, helping the Habs earn the single point they needed to earn the No.8 seed heading into the postseason. Proving that once you make the playoffs, anything can happen, the Habs disposed of the President’s Trophy-winning Capitals before knocking off the reigning Cup champs in Pittsburgh that postseason, making it all the way to the Conference Finals against the Flyers that spring.
In the case of the 2012-13 lockout-truncated campaign, the Habs have earned the elusive “X” with eight games left to play, the quickest they’ve done so in the 21st Century. With a 26-9-5 record, the Canadiens will finish in the Top 8 in the Conference, becoming the 3rd team in the NHL guaranteed to be playing past April 27.
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