GAME: Canadiens (42-31-9) at Hurricanes (52-22-8).
PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference quarterfinals
TIME: Saturday, 7 p.m. EDT.
The Carolina Hurricanes hope their best season in franchise history will lead to a similar type of postseason.
The Southeast Division champions begin a postseason of high expectations as they host the Montreal Canadiens in the opener of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
The Hurricanes set franchise records with 52 wins and 112 points, but missed out on a chance to be the top seed in the East. Carolina closed its season with a 4-0 loss to Buffalo, and the Ottawa Senators passed the Hurricanes with a 5-1 win over the New York Rangers in their season finale.
"You don't want to choke your last game of the year, but we can't dwell on it," Hurricanes defenseman Mike Commodore said. "Obviously, it would have been nice to win the East, but now it is a clean slate. Second is pretty nice. Let's get the playoffs started."
But finishing second may be a blessing for the Hurricanes, who dominated the seventh-seeded Canadiens in the regular season. Carolina won all four games between the teams, outscoring Montreal 25-9 and converting 25 percent (8-for-32) of its power-play opportunities.
The Hurricanes will be making their first playoff appearance since reaching the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals as a No. 3 seed, beating New Jersey, Montreal and Toronto before losing to Detroit in five games.
That series win over the Canadiens is their only one in six tries in franchise history dating back to their days as the Hartford Whalers and Adams Division rivals.
Carolina is trying to regroup from a late-season slump that saw it lose four of tis last five. Eric Staal - who finished with career highs of 45 goals and 100 points - had just three goals in his last 14 games while goaltender Martin Gerber allowed 28 goals in his last seven starts.
The Hurricanes lost 12 of their last 21 regular-season games but also have a decided advantage at home, where they posted the best record in the East at 31-8-2.
"Sometimes in this game, you have to have a short memory," Hurricanes forward Craig Adams said. "You have to leave it at the rink and leave it alone. We're excited to be in the playoffs and to be playing at home in the playoffs."
Montreal - the most storied team in NHL history with 23 Stanley Cup titles, but none since 1993 - is in the playoffs for just the third time in the past seven seasons. The Canadiens lost five of their last seven games after a franchise-record eight-game winning streak helped them get into playoff contention.
The Canadiens ended a small controversy Thursday by naming Cristobal Huet their starting goaltender. Huet has no playoff experience, but his stellar play after the Olympic break convinced coach and general manager Bob Gainey to give the 31-year-old Frenchman the first shot.
"I think both goalies have played good games for us down the stretch, but I feel that he's the guy who probably had the harder tests and maybe the best preparation to start Saturday," Gainey said of Huet. "I think he's our playoff goalie."
Huet's emergence came as a surprise to the Canadiens, who acquired David Aebischer from the Colorado Avalanche on March 8 for former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner Jose Theodore to solidify their goaltending.
Defenseman Sheldon Souray feels Gainey made the right choice with Huet, who had seven shutouts in 33 starts.
"With all due respect to Aebischer, (Huet) deserves to be playing, he's done a lot for this team," Souray said. "Look at his numbers, look at the way he's performed, look at the way he's handled things here. I mean, come on, the guy's been nothing less that unbelievable for us."
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Canadiens - 93 points; 7th seed. Hurricanes - 112 points; 2nd seed.
REGULAR SEASON TEAM LEADERS: Canadiens - Michael Ryder, 30 goals; Saku Koivu, 45 assists; Alexei Kovalev, 65 points; Souray and Mike Komisarek, 116 PIM. Hurricanes - Staal, 45 goals and 100 points; Staal and Cory Stillman, 55 assists; Commodore, 138 PIM.
REGULAR SEASON SPECIAL TEAMS: Canadiens - Power play: 19.2 percent (89 for 463), 5th. Penalty killing: 81.1 percent (390 for 481), 21st. Hurricanes - Power play: 17.9 percent (95 for 531), 17th. Penalty killing: 81.8 percent (364 for 445), 19th.
GOALTENDERS: Canadiens - Aebischer (29-17-2, 3 SO, 3.09 GAA); Huet (18-11-4, 7, 2.20). Hurricanes - Gerber (38-14-6, 3, 2.78); Cam Ward (14-8-2, 3.68)
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Hurricanes, 4-0. Staal has led the Hurricanes with four goals and four assists in the season series while Plekanec has two goals and one assist for the Canadiens in three matchups against Carolina.