MONTREAL – It was only a matter of time, but on Saturday night Max Pacioretty made it official. The Canadiens are playoff-bound in 2015.
Knotted 2-2 with just over two minutes left in overtime, Pacioretty took advantage of a high-sticking penalty to Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck to net his 10th game-winning goal of the season and punch the Habs’ 82nd postseason ticket in franchise history.
“Before tonight’s game the coaches told us there were only seven left, so let’s treat them like our own first round of the playoffs. I really like that mentality. We go into every series thinking we’re going to play seven games – now we’ve got six left,” explained Pacioretty, who leads the NHL with an incredible plus-40 differential. “We did the job tonight but at the end of the day we’ve got to get some momentum heading into the playoffs. That’s our goal right now and we’ve got to get everybody on board. Tonight was a good step, but we’ve still got work to do.”
Indeed, despite clinching one game sooner this year and with nine more points than in 2014 in an ultra-competitive Eastern Conference, it will be business as usual in the Canadiens dressing room on Sunday when the team begins preparing for the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday.
“We haven’t shown our best yet. Tonight we didn’t show our best but we played a really strong game. You’ve got to be happy with the fact that guys might be a little worn down from playing a lot of games in a row right now, but we still found a way to battle and to win,” continued the night’s first star, who also registered three hits over 19:29 of ice time. “That’s the difference in the playoffs – having a mentality of never giving up. It’s only going to get harder from now on. We’ve got another game on Monday and the same mentality applies there.”
With a pair of power play goals in a playoff-type outing against Florida, head coach Michel Therrien already has a good idea of what his troops will be working on in Brossard, hoping to capitalize on the team’s most recent momentum with the man advantage.
“I liked our composure. The Panthers aren’t an easy team to beat,” underlined the Habs’ bench boss, who also took sole possession of the 43rd spot among the NHL’s winningest coaches on Saturday. “Our power play was one of the highlights tonight, and that’s something we need to build off of now that we’re officially in the playoffs. We want to position ourselves as strongly as possible to make sure we’re ready.”
Fans checking the NHL standings on Sunday morning will find more than just a familiar ‘X’ next to the Canadiens logo, as Montreal now sits back atop the Eastern Conference following the Rangers’ afternoon loss to the Bruins. That's a positive sign for a Habs team with great expectations for this spring following last year’s Eastern Conference Final run.
“It’s encouraging for us. We’ll recognize that we’ve accomplished something tonight, but it’s just the first step of many that we have yet to take. It shows that we’ve done something well,” acknowledged Lars Eller, who had 13 points in 17 games during last season’s playoffs, including five goals. “Every game from tonight on is very important. I can’t stress that enough. We don’t just turn it off now and turn it back on on April 15. We’ve all got something to play for. We want to finish first in our division, we want home ice advantage… all those things. That’s what we’re going to play for now.”
Steven Nechay is a writer for canadiens.com
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