The Canadiens were last in the Eastern Conference a year ago and by late April were well into their off-season routines.
Now they face a best-of-seven conference quarterfinal against their closest geographical rival.
"It's tough when you finish in 15th place," Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban said Monday. "Some guys are going home right now and some are going to the world championship.
"Some are going to start training in another week and a half. We're still playing hockey. We're privileged to do that, but we worked hard to put ourselves in that position and now we'll work hard to keep playing. We know what the ultimate goal is."