Habs close out season with win over Leafs
Air Canada Centre, Toronto
Brian Gionta (MTL) — 2G
Phil Kessel (TOR) — 1G
Carey Price (MTL) — 27 Saves
The Montreal Canadiens have a playoff date with the rival Boston Bruins.
The Canadiens clinched sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a 4-1 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs in their regular season finale before a season-high crowd of 19,667 at the Air Canada Centre Centre on Saturday.
That means the Habs will clash with the rival Bruins in the playoffs for the third time in four years and 33rd time in team history. The Canadiens have won 24 of the previous 32 meetings, but this get-together will have some extra fuel because it arrives five weeks after Zdeno Chara-Max Pacioretty incident, in which Pacioretty was driven into a neutral zone stanchion in a game in early March.
Although Pacioretty is back skating he is not expected to be ready for action in the first round.
"We know all you guys [the media] will have fun over the next few days writing about it and talking about it, but for us this is simply the playoffs," Montreal veteran forward Mike Cammalleri said. "We're ready."
After an up-and-down regular season that saw Montreal lose two of its top defencemen to season-ending knee injuries in Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges, and later Pacioretty in the controversial hit by Chara, the Habs enter the playoffs on a roll.
They managed a 4-1-1 run to comfortably end the regular season and now enter the post-season with confidence they gained from last spring's run to the Eastern Conference final.
"I think we can use that experience to help us," said Montreal veteran defenceman Jaroslav Spacek, who was able to recover from a knee injury in time to play the final two games of the regular season.
"That was fun last year. We know what it takes to win. Now we have to go out and do it again."
The big difference will be in goal. Last spring's hero, goalie Jaroslav Halak, was traded to the St. Louis Blues. As a result, Carey Price regained No. 1 status in Montreal and has rewarded the faith Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier showed in him.
But the 23-year-old Price now has to get it done in the playoffs against the Bruins.
The Canadiens won four of the six meetings against Boston this season, but after Montreal dumped the Bruins 4-1 in Pacioretty-Chara game on Mar. 8, Boston came back three weeks later to hammer the Canadiens 7-0 in the revenge match.
"Look, we know they are all about defence," Spacek said. "These games are going to be tight. It will be important for us to go out and score that first goal. When we do that, they have to change the way they play and open up."
The win against the Leafs was Habs coach Jacques Martin's 600th of his career. Only nine coaches have reached that mark in NHL history.
While the Habs will be making their fifth playoff appearance in six years since the 2004-05 lockout, the Maple Leafs have been shut out from post-season action for the past seven years.
In the meaningless season finale between the division rivals, Montreal enjoyed a 2-1 advantage after the first period and held the same lead following four 40 minutes.
Ryan White and Brian Gionta swiftly gave the Habs a 2-0 lead before Toronto's Phil Kessel closed the gap midway through the opening 20 minutes.
Gionta and Plekanec, with a shorthanded goal, widened the Montreal lead in the third period.
Plenty has been made of the Maple Leafs' second half, in which they went 24-15-7 in their final 46 games to finish 10th in the conference. But Toronto dropped its last three decisions of the regular season to finish in 10th in the East, eight points back of the eighth-place New York Rangers.
Only the Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers have yet to make the playoffs since the 2004-05 lockout.
Youngsters Joel Colborne and Matt Frattin made their NHL debuts for the Maple Leafs.
The 21-year-old Colborne, who was acquired in the Tomas Kaberle trade, played centre between Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel and saw 18 minutes and 41 seconds of ice time.
Frattin, 23, was signed to an entry-level contract after his North Dakota team was knocked out of the NCAA Frozen Four in an upset against Michigan on Thursday.
Frattin, who played 15:34 in his Maple Leafs debut, was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the top U.S. collegiate player, but the right wing from Edmonton lost out to Miami University's Andy Miele, who recently signed a free-agent deal with the Phoenix Coyotes.