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X marks the spot

by Staff Writer / Montr��al Canadiens
The playoff-bound Canadiens had plenty to celebrate on Monday night.
MONTREAL - When it comes to hockey, finding out the value of “X” doesn’t require any complicated calculations. By downing the Senators, the Canadiens earned their “X” in the standings, punching their ticket to the postseason in the process.

After being eliminated from the playoffs on the last day of the season in 2006-07, Guy Carbonneau’s crew wasn’t as patient this time around. With still 13 days to go in the NHL’s regular season calendar, the Habs know their unlikely run this year will continue past April 6.

The Canadiens can also rest easily tonight as the first team to clinch a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

“Being the first to do it is a real accomplishment for a young team like ours and a real credit to this group,” said Habs captain Saku Koivu. “Having to battle our way into the playoffs the way we have in recent years takes a lot out of you. Being in playoff mode for that long is never easy.”

While few could’ve imagined it coming out of Habs training camp, they are now in the driver’s seat atop the East and also hold a comfortable seven-point cushion over the Senators for the Northeast Division lead.

“At the beginning of the season, everyone in this room believed in what we could do this year, unlike everyone else out there,” said Tom Kostopoulos. “There are a lot of underrated players on this team and younger guys who have developed much faster than expected.

“Our first goal of making the playoffs is now out of the way,” added Kostopoulos. “Now it’s time to focus on our second objective: grabbing that top spot in our conference.”

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Almost lost in the shuffle among all the excitement of challenging for the No. 1 seed in the East was the way the Canadiens did it in impressive fashion, finally vanquishing the Senators. Ottawa did, after all, arrive at the Bell Centre on Monday having won five of their previous six meetings with the Habs.

“This is a huge relief,” admitted Francis Bouillon after chipping in with his second goal of the season. “I’ve been here for eight years and this is the first time we haven’t had to scratch and claw our way into the playoffs. It makes it even sweeter to do it against our nemesis, the Senators.”

No one in the Canadiens’ dressing room knows about what makes the Senators tick more than Bryan Smolinski, who recently spent two-plus seasons in the nation’s capital.

“Obviously this win was big for us and a real confidence boost. That’s a good team over there,” said Smolinski. “A performance like this also speaks volumes about what’s really going on here in this dressing room.”

Manny Almela is a writer for
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