-- For three improbable rounds of last spring's playoffs, there wasn't a single player in the League who was as dangerous an offensive threat as Michael Cammalleri
The puck just appeared to follow the Montreal Canadiens
sniper everywhere he went, and with amazing frequency, Cammalleri made sure that puck made its way to the back of the net a League-best 13 times in 19 games.
So when he was asked Monday if he's looking forward to re-capturing the magic of last season's run to the Eastern Conference Finals, it would be only natural to expect Cammalleri to say yes.
Except he didn't.
"Hopefully not," was Cammalleri's response Monday to a question he was asked about a dozen times in a dozen different ways. "I'd like to win a Stanley Cup."
Cammalleri and his Canadiens teammates will take their first step on that journey Thursday night in Boston as they face the archrival Bruins in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at TD Garden.
And until this year's playoffs get started, questions about last season's magical run as the eighth-seeded giant-killers will likely persist for the Canadiens.
Cammalleri says those playoffs "feel like they were a really long time ago" and that the Canadiens have not been talking about that experience too much internally.
Yet, at the same time, Cammalleri concedes there are positives to be drawn from that relative success, even if it wasn't the ultimate success every player hopes for.
"I'm a believer that you learn from the past and it helps you in the present," he said. "I don't think we should dwell on it. I think at the same time there's nothing wrong with carrying forward lessons we may have learned there."
In a series where many of the advantages reside on the side of the Bruins, that is one of the key areas where the Canadiens are clearly ahead.
While Montreal spent its summer relishing in its playoff run, once the sting of being eliminated subsided, the Bruins had to spend their summer thinking about a historic playoff collapse where they let a 3-0 series lead slip away to lose in the second round to the Philadelphia Flyers
That difference in experience is not limited to last season, either.
The Canadiens have six Stanley Cup rings in their dressing room, compared to three for the Bruins, and roughly 130 more games of playoff experience collectively.
"I think we have enough players who have been there before who understand the level of passion you need to bring to the game," Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said. "You need to play with emotion, but you need to play with controlled emotion and that emotion needs to be pointed in the right direction."
While any team obviously loves having that veteran savvy on their side come playoff time, captain Brian Gionta
warns not to put too much weight on the disparity between the Canadiens and Bruins.
"Obviously experience is a big thing, but at the end of the day that doesn't win you a series, you need to go out and perform," Gionta said. "(Last year) doesn't play much of a role. We have a different team with different guys in the locker room, and different roles for different guys. We have to find our own way and make sure we understand that right from the start, we need to be going. We can't be spotting teams (leads). We have to be ready from Game 1."
Be that as it may, Cammalleri getting back to his playoff form of a year ago would help enormously in getting off to the quick start Gionta speaks of.
Cammalleri fell short of the 20-goal mark this season for just the second time since becoming a full-time NHLer in 2005, though both times were largely because of injury.
Still, Cammalleri managed to score 26 goals in 65 games last season, and dipped to 19 in 67 games this season.
He's been on a line with Tomas Plekanec
and Andrei Kostitsyn
the past four games, and it's one that will need to carry the offensive load for a team that struggles to score goals 5-on-5.
"I think the last few games we've been having some fun with each other, talking to each other, creating a lot of chances," Cammalleri said. "If we can carry that over we'll be where we need to be. I think defensively we have to be good. Depending on the match-ups we draw, I think we'll play our best games by first being strong in our own end."
But even if Cammalleri and his linemates are able to do that, and even if the Canadiens do just about everything perfectly, the Bruins will still be the heavy favorites in the minds of many to win the series. The only question, it seems, is how many games it might take.
Not only are the Canadiens aware of their underdog status, they appear to be reveling in it.
"They're obviously the favorite, and deservedly so," said Cammalleri, one of several Canadiens players to point that out Monday, including Martin. "They've had a tremendous season, they're the three seed, they have home ice and all of those things. They expect to win, and I would say a lot of people expect them to win."
The Canadiens rode that us-against-the-world attitude to some great heights last season and it sounds as though they're trying to recapture that mindset once again, even though their players are saying last year is a thing of the past.