BROSSARD – With the NHL playoff race heating up and games becoming “must-wins” for the teams still in the hunt, the Canadiens were hard at work Friday morning prepping for battle against the Ottawa Senators.
Currently riding an eight-game win streak, the Senators have quickly become one of the hottest teams in the league. The Sens may have their eyes on picking up No. 9 in Saturday’s matinee affair, but the Habs aren’t about to let two crucial points slip away without a fight.
“It’s definitely a sprint for us. From now until the Olympic break, we really need to pick up as many wins as possible,” explained Michael Cammalleri, currently the Habs’ top sniper with 26 goals. “If we look at how the season is split up, it’s not really like a mid-season break – most of our games are behind us so we need to turn it on now. We want to head into the break on a high note and carry that momentum into the games after the Olympics.”
Thanks to their stellar play of late, the Senators have broken away from the pack and added a comfortable cushion in their push for the postseason. Still in the fight for one of the final few playoff spots up for grabs in the Eastern Conference with 55 points, the Habs realize how tight the race is – with a measly two points separating the 6th place Thrashers from the 13th ranked Islanders.
“We have to respect the fact that the Senators are probably playing their best hockey ever right now,” added Cammalleri. “We’re very conscious of the situation in the room. We know we can’t be looking two or three games ahead with such a big game coming up in Ottawa.”
Born and raised in Alfred, ON, mid-way between Montreal and Ottawa, Benoit Pouliot will likely be feeling right at home surrounded by a few familiar faces in the stands at Scotiabank Place.
“It’s going to be a nice challenge and it could also as extra motivation because we all want to snap their winning streak,” admitted Pouliot. “We’re going over there to win. At this point in the season, we don’t really have a choice. Playoff spots often come down to the difference of a point or two, so all of our games the rest of the way are crucial.”
On the blue line, the losses of both Paul Mara and Jaroslav Spacek will mean some defensive help may be parachuted in from the farm in Hamilton, according to Jacques Martin.
Fellow blue-liner Josh Gorges
will be in the lineup, epitomizing the style of play that wins games at this time of year.
“For us, playoff hockey has already started,” stated Gorges. “Across the league right now every game is a battle. We know how important these next few games are. We can’t look too far ahead, though. We have to focus all of our energy on the next game and that’s in Ottawa on Saturday afternoon.”
Martin knows exactly the mindset his troops must have if the Habs hope to cool down the red-hot Senators.
“We have to be ready to go war,” explained Martin. “It’s winning one-on-one battles; it’s playing the way we did last week against in big games against the Devils and Rangers, full of intensity and supporting one another. The standings are so tight now and there is so much parity these days that it’s going to be quite the battle through to the end.” Vincent Cauchy is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Manny Almela and Shauna Denis.See also:Eastern Conference StandingsWelcome to the RockMonthly wallpaper now available