TORONTO – Fifty wins, a division title, and a 110-point season. The Canadiens are ready for the playoffs.
The Canadiens clinched first place in the Atlantic division on Saturday night with a shootout win over the Maple Leafs. In addition to completing a season sweep of their Original 6 rivals with their fourth win against Toronto in as many games, the victory also marked the team’s 50th win of the campaign – the first time the Habs have hit that milestone since 1988-89.
“It feels good right now. I think we can be proud of what we accomplished as a group this season and enjoy that tonight, but once we get to that first game of the playoffs, it doesn’t mean anything,” stressed Lars Eller, who had four shots in 18:15 of action against the Leafs. “We have a lot of confidence in the room and we know what makes us successful. If we can continue doing the things well that we did in the regular season, we have a good chance of being successful going forward.”
By earning top honors in the division with an impressive 110-point campaign, the Canadiens are now guaranteed to have home ice advantage for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs. With 26 wins at home in 2014-15 – second in the East in that category – the Habs are happy to be kicking things off at the Bell Centre, although with 24 road wins to their credit, they feel pretty comfortable away from home, too.
“Playing in the Bell Centre is a lot of fun. We play well at home,” mentioned Carey Price, who led the league in goals-against average (1.96) and save percentage (.933) to add the Jennings Trophy to his list of accomplishments, while collecting a team record 44 wins. “That crowd during the playoffs is electric.”
With multiple matchup possibilities on the line prior to puck drop, the Canadiens may have clinched their spot in the postseason over two weeks ago, but they had to wait until the final buzzer in Toronto to discover who their first round dance partner would be. About to head to Ottawa for the second time in three years after the Senators punched their ticket to the playoffs in Game 82, the Habs see no reason to worry about the Sens’ recent success when they’ve had so much of their own all season.
“No matter who we’re going to face in this series, we have to focus on ourselves,” said Eller, who was injured in Game 1 against Ottawa in 2013 and missed the remainder of the series. “I know it’s a cliché but it’s really true. That’s what we’ve been doing all season. If we want to go all the way, we have to go through all the teams.”
Not ready to dissect his first round opponent with his last regular season win still so fresh, Michel Therrien instead preferred to reflect on the team’s best finish in 26 years. The last time the Habs won 50 games, a future Hall-of-Famer led them all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
“I didn’t know that the last coach to win 50 was Pat Burns. I’m at a loss for words,” admitted the Habs bench boss, whose team most recently won the division title in 2012-13. “We’re very proud of this accomplishment. I think this was a season that exceeded peoples’ expectations. If you look at our division, three teams had at least 100 points. There’s a lot of parity and it’s very, very difficult to win. All the credit goes to the players.
“It’s going to be a tough series,” added Therrien, who will give his troops a day off on Sunday before starting playoff prep on Monday morning. “The Senators deserve to be where they are, but for the moment, I want to think about what we just accomplished.” Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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