TORONTO - After what was a trying few weeks in mid-April, the Montreal Canadiens look to be heading into the playoffs in the right direction.
Prior to their final two games of the regular season, Montreal went through a stretch where they lost six of eight games and were outscored 32-16.
But they responded impressively in their final two games picking up back-to-back wins on the road against the Winnipeg Jets and Saturday night’s 4-1 win over eternal foes and possible first round opponents, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"I think it was important that we finished the year playing good hockey. A lot of times you don't want to base it on wins and losses,” said defenceman Josh Gorges. "Obviously it's always better to win but it's about how you're playing. The process. Tonight and for most of the last game we played pretty consistent, good hockey."
Much of the talk coming into the last game of the regular season between Montreal and Toronto had to do with the apparent size difference between the clubs.
Prior to Saturday night, the Leafs had won three of the previous four meetings this season including 5-1 in Toronto two weeks ago. Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul said that it was due to Toronto being bigger and stronger than Montreal.
When asked about how they see the physical match-ups should the two be paired up in the playoffs, the Montreal players certainly don't seem to show any fear and aren't afraid to back down.
"We feel we match up physically fine against any team we play against. It's not an issue," said Brendan Gallagher, who is listed, perhaps generously, at five foot nine inches tall but wasn't afraid to stand face-to-face with some of the Leafs bigger players on this night.
"We have some guys that can go out and bang, we have some quick guys on our team and we feel like we have a good mix so it's never been an issue for us."
With the regular season in the books, Montreal now has to sit and wait to see who their first round opponent will be.
They'll only find that out at the conclusion of the Boston Bruins-Ottawa Senators game on Sunday, but regardless of who they play in the first round, they feel their performance from the last two games has set the tone for what they hope is a long playoff run.
“These last two games—the one in Winnipeg and tonight's had a playoff atmosphere," said head coach Michel Therrien. "We reacted well in Winnipeg and I felt my team was headed in a good direction. Tonight was a very solid game."
There’s no denying the vast majority of hockey fans are hoping the fates match the two teams together and while the players say it doesn't matter who they're up against, they know what a series against the Leafs would mean.
"Obviously I'm assuming it would be the most emotional first round series ever so that aspect of it is cool," said Gallagher. "But for us, we don't really care who we're playing. It's about us."