MONTREAL (AP) -The Montreal Canadiens have history on their side as they get ready for their 31st playoff series against the Boston Bruins.
Montreal has won 23 of the previous postseason series between the longtime rivals, including their two most recent conference quarterfinal meetings in 2002 and 2004.
The Canadiens finished a surprising first overall in the Eastern Conference with 104 points, in large part thanks to a season series sweep of their eight games against Boston, which earned just one of a possible 16 points while going 0-7-1 against Montreal.
The storied franchise's playoff campaign slogan is "16 for 25," a reference to the number of games the 24-time Stanley Cup champions will need to win to claim another title for the hockey-mad city.
Canadiens GM Bob Gainey set the tone for his team and its fans when he addressed reporters after season's end Monday.
"We want to win the Cup but we've got to beat Boston, so let's start there," Gainey said.
With Montreal going berserk over its beloved team's recent success, expectations are soaring and attention is zeroing in on the Bell Centre, where the Canadiens will host the Bruins in Thursday's series opener.
Coach Guy Carbonneau said he gets about 150 people honking their horns at him in a show of support every morning as he drives to the downtown rink.
With that kind of attention, Carbonneau has turned to his playing days with his decision to sequester the team together for the evening in an undisclosed location following Wednesday's afternoon practice.
It's a tactic the Canadiens have used before to lessen the glare of the spotlight, including when they won the Stanley Cup with a similarly youthful team in 1986.
Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges is typical of the group of youngsters such as 20-year-old goalie Carey Price and brothers Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn, who have made big and largely unanticipated contributions to the team's success this season.
"You know, the playoffs are a grind," Gorges said. "You ask anybody that's been through any type of playoffs, it's never easy. It's a battle of attrition and I think the team that wants it the most and the team that prepares the hardest and does what it takes is the team that ultimately is successful."
Montreal will open the series without captain Saku Koivu, currently sidelined by a broken foot. Defenseman Francis Bouillon is questionable for Thursday's opener because of an ankle injury, though the Canadiens blue line will still likely get a huge boost from the expected return of Mike Komisarek, the team leader in hits and blocked shots.
"One of the things you learn in Montreal is Montreal Canadiens teams are not defined on what they do in the regular season, they're defined on the success they have in the postseason, so all we've done in the regular season is thrown out the window and we start from square one," Komisarek said. "We've got to build our record and build some wins."
Boston is also hoping for good news on the injury front. Marc Savard practiced with his teammates Wednesday before the Bruins traveled to Montreal and is expected to return after sitting out the last seven games with a back injury.
"I feel ready," Savard said. "I think I'm pretty close. My passing and shooting feel fine."
Head coach Claude Julien said Savard will be a game-time decision along with Glen Metropolit, who took a shot and has some swelling in his leg.
Julien grew up a Canadiens fan and coached Montreal for parts of three seasons, including 2003-04, when he led eighth-seeded Montreal past the top-seeded Bruins in the first round of the playoffs.
He was behind the bench then as the Canadiens overcame a 3-1 series deficit to upset Boston, so he not only knows it can be done, he has the credentials to sell it to his players.
"There's no pressure on us," he said. "We're already the underdog."