MONTREAL – The Habs and Leafs will square off on Saturday night for two points that won’t make much difference in the standings, but for the players the game is still far from meaningless.
When the NHL brass gets together in the summer to craft the following season’s schedule, they always make sure to save the best for last. Set to face the Maple Leafs for Game 82 for the fifth time in seven years, the Canadiens have grown accustomed to using the outing to either prepare for the pending playoffs or clinch the coveted final berth. While both teams have been out of contention for a few weeks and earning an extra two points will only hurt their respective draft positions this June, neither club will be approaching the last game of the year as a throwaway.
“I think it’s still going to be a great game. There is a rivalry and we really don’t like to lose to each other,” admitted Toronto native P.K. Subban, whose entire family will be in attendance at the Bell Centre to watch the 22-year-old cap his sophomore season in person. “It’s definitely going to be a hard-fought game out there with guys blocking shots and throwing hits. There’s going to be a lot of energy in the building so it should be fun.”
Closing out the campaign with a visit from the Leafs is nothing new for Josh Gorges who got his first taste of the emotional rivalry in 2006-07 when a loss to Toronto on the last day of the year meant the Habs would end up missing the playoffs by just two points.
“I was sitting up in the press box [for that game]. That was a different situation for me. I had just been traded and I wasn’t with the group all year long so I didn’t really know the guys,” explained Gorges, who arrived in Montreal from San Jose on Feb. 25 that year. “I wasn’t really in that tight group situation where I am today.
“But that was an exciting day and an exciting game for both teams and for the league,” added the 27-year-old blue-liner of the 6-5 loss the team suffered to their longtime rivals exactly five years ago. “To have Montreal and Toronto coming down to the last day, win and get in, it made for exciting hockey.”
While the Habs would love nothing more than to finish the season on a high note, win or lose, the mood in the room postgame will be anything but celebratory. Regardless of the results, Gorges knows the next time the team gets together after Saturday will be to clean out their lockers and say their goodbyes before heading home for the offseason.
“It’s a difficult day to come to the rink and get prepared for a game knowing it’s the last one and really there’s nothing you can do about it,” shared Gorges, who has only missed the playoffs once since his arrival in Montreal. “I didn’t even think about it until getting on the ice this morning, realizing it’s the last game of the year and there’s nothing after this. It sucks because at the start of the year your goal is to be in the playoffs and fighting for the Stanley Cup and with the year we’ve had and everything that’s gone on to come down to the last day is disappointing.
“But we owe it to our fans to come out hard tonight, especially against this team,” he added. “I don’t think there’s any love lost between these two teams and we want to keep it that way. We want to have a good showing, we want to end the year on a good note and we want to win.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
Rapid Fire: April 7
The Numbers Game - April 5, 2012
Words from the room