BROSSARD – With 14 games to go, the Canadiens aren’t interested in coasting their way into the playoffs.
Sitting second in the conference with just over a quarter of the season left to play, the Habs are in the driver’s seat in the playoff race for the first time in five years. Since finishing first in the East in 2007-08, the Canadiens have had a flair for dramatic finishes.
In 2008-09, the team squeaked into the postseason as an eighth seed by beating the Panthers in a tie-breaker. In 2009-10, they edged out the Rangers by a single point to clinch a berth when New York lost in a shootout on the last day of the season, and in 2010-11, just five points separated the sixth-place Habs from the ninth-place Hurricanes when the regular season ended.
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Dates with a few teams on the outside-looking-in await the Canadiens this week, and the Habs will be looking to match that familiar desperation level, starting with the 10th-place Hurricanes on Monday night.
“All year it’s been like that. Every night it feels like it’s a team pushing to get into the playoffs,” described Jeff Halpern, who spent the first half of the year with the eighth-place Rangers before being claimed off waivers by the Canadiens on March 23. “I don’t think it’s any different at this time of year than it was at the start; it’s been a sprint the whole season.
“Until you’re in the playoffs, you’re never comfortable and we’re still fighting with Boston and Ottawa in our own division for playoff positioning,” added the veteran faceoff specialist. “These are important games. Whether you’re a team trying to get in or you’re battling for playoff positioning, they’re all still big games.”
The Hurricanes may be sitting 10th in the conference at the moment, but with just one point separating them from a playoff spot, and four points standing between them and the southeast division crown, there’s nothing Carolina would like more than to make up some ground starting Monday night.
“I don’t think we’ll see a different team; I think we’ll see a team that’s going to play their best hockey,” explained Josh Gorges, whose team has won both games they’ve played against the ‘Canes this year. “They’re fighting for their playoff lives right now and every game is going to be crucial for them. We have to expect nothing but their best.”
That’s something the Canadiens are used to by now. Coming off a 3-0 win that seemed to suck the life out of the Blue Shirts, the Habs have had no trouble upping their intensity level heading into the home stretch.
“There are a lot of teams pushing and playing some desperate hockey,” confirmed Michel Therrien. “We just played the Rangers who are in the same situation [as Carolina] and tonight there’s no doubt it’s going to be the same: really intense. At this time of year, they’re all big games.
“The approach we’ve had all year is we make adjustments for the teams we’re playing, but my focus is on my team,” continued the Habs head coach. “How we’re going to start, what our attitude is going to be like heading into each game. We’re aware we’re playing against a team fighting to get into the playoffs, but we’re just focusing on improving ourselves as much as possible.”
Enjoying his first taste of the push for the NHL postseason, rookie forward Brendan Gallagher has already started ramping up his already all-out style as the playoffs approach.
“Every night, there are important games. When we’re not playing, we’re watching,” he shared. “You see where you stand every day when you come in and check the standings board in the locker room. It’s been fun to be a part of and I’m sure as we get closer and closer to the playoffs, it’s only going to get more intense.”
The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. at the Bell Centre on Monday night.
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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