BROSSARD -- The Canadiens will meet the Ottawa Senators three times in the next nine days, beginning with a pair of back-to-back games on the weekend, first in the nation's capital and then in Montreal.
With two recent rivals duking it out over a trio of dates this late in the season -- and first place in the Atlantic likely on the line -- all the makings of a new chapter in the battle of Highway 417 are in already place.
"It's going to feel a bit like playoff hockey. We want to finish first in our division, so the motivation is there," underlined Phillip Danault following Thursday's practice in Brossard. "How couldn't it be?"
The Victoriaville, QC native put the burgeoning rivalry into perspective bluntly.
"We know we don't like them, and they don't like us. Playing each other three times in one week will only add fuel to that fire. It's good playoff preparation -- a three-out-of-five," continued the 24-year-old. "We'll be ready."
Former Dallas Stars defenseman Jordie Benn may be a newcomer to these parts, but he still has a pretty good idea of what awaits him this weekend.
"All I know is that it's another Canadian team that everyone in Montreal wants us to beat, so it should be a good home-and-away series," described the 29-year-old, who has one goal in seven games with the Canadiens so far.
"Four-point games" against division rivals may sound like a cliché, but that's exactly what the trio of matchups against the Sens will amount to. As of Thursday afternoon, the Habs hold a slim one-point lead over Ottawa in the standings, with two more games played.
"Everyone wants to finish first, but soon we'll find out who wants it more," acknowledged Paul Byron, a native of the Canadian capital. "We'll need to be ready to battle."
Video: Paul Byron on his season so far
Andrew Shaw arrived in Montreal this summer with two Stanley Cup rings in his bags, and a healthy knowledge of what it takes to win in the playoffs; more than just practice, it also takes chemistry.
"There are what, 12 games left? This is when we need to step up, and it's going to be a huge challenge for us to play a good Ottawa team. They've been great in the last stretch here, so we need to show them that we're ready for it -- we're prepared -- and we're willing to go the extra mile to get the win," stressed the 25-year-old. "This is the time of year that builds the chemistry in the locker room. It shows the character of the team, and that's something you need going into the playoffs. It's going to be a tough weekend, but we like the challenge."
Tough in more ways than one. The Senators play a robust style of hockey, but that's where newcomers Andreas Martinsen, Dwight King, and Steve Ott come in.
"Ottawa is a big team, so the new guys will help us add another dimension to our game," added Byron, who at 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, is at the opposite end of the Habs' size spectrum.
But what he may lack in physicality, he makes up for with speed and scoring touch, as the 27-year-old is now just one goal shy of hitting 20 on the season for the first time in his career.
Not to mention the fact that he'll now have the chance to hit the milestone against his hometown club.
"Things have been going well for me this year, so I won't try to change my game," said the former Flames forward.
Teammate Danault is a little less humble when it comes to the second-year Hab.
"Pauly is a player who inspires me. He's small, but he plays like he's 6-foot-5. He's a strong, talented, fast playmaker. I think he's the complete package, offensively and defensively," detailed the former Blackhawk. "He's proved a lot this year, so it's only a matter of time before he hits 20 goals, and I don't just mean this season."
Video: Danault on the rivalry with Ottawa