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Price expects Canadiens to make playoffs next season

Montreal finished two points behind Blue Jackets for second wild card from Eastern Conference

by Sean Farrell / Correspondent

BROSSARD, Quebec -- Carey Price is sure the Montreal Canadiens will make the Stanley Cup Playoffs next season.

"We all expect to make the playoffs next season," Price said Tuesday. "That should be everybody's goal while they're training this summer and preparing. It's never a great thing to have a long summer like we do, but since we have it we might as well put it to good use and manage our time and our efforts well and prepare as best we can for next season. I think you don't want to have long summers but they can be an asset in the long term."

Montreal (44-30-8) finished two points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. It was the second straight season and third time in the past four the Canadiens have missed the playoffs.

The Canadiens won 15 more games this season than 2017-18, when they went 29-40-13 and finished 26 points out of the second wild card.

"You have time to digest it and it's a little bit bitter," Price said. "I think once the playoffs start then it kind of hurts again. You know, it's always hard to watch other people do what you want to be doing."

Forward Max Domi agreed with Price that Montreal will be a playoff team next season.

"We're going to get to work here," he said. "The offseason started a couple of days ago so we're going to regroup here and get ready to go for a big run next year."

Video: MTL@WSH: Price stops Connolly's bid with pad

Domi, acquired in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes for forward Alex Galchenyuk on June 15, led the Canadiens and set a personal NHL best with 72 points (28 goals, 44 assists).

Also reaching personal NHL highs were forward Brendan Gallagher, who led the Canadiens with 33 goals, two more than his previous high last season, and forward Tomas Tatar, who had 58 points (25 goals, 33 assists) after being acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights as part of the Max Pacioretty trade Sept. 9.

Montreal will need to improve its power play after scoring an NHL-low 31 goals with the man-advantage. The Canadiens' 13.2 percent success rate ranked 30th in the League.

Defenseman Shea Weber led Montreal with five power-play goals despite missing the first 24 games of the season following separate surgeries on his left foot and right knee.

"I think things were moving a little bit better at the end, and hopefully having more time to work on it with everybody at the start of next season will get things going," Weber said. "But you know there are some positive things to look at, especially at the end when we moved the puck well. I thought our breakouts improved a little bit near the end there and getting entries and getting set up, and I think that made a big difference."

Antti Niemi, who was Price's backup this season, will not be offered a contract for next season, general manager Marc Bergevin said. The 35-year-old, who will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, was 8-6-2 with a 3.78 goals-against average and .887 save percentage in 17 starts this season.

"He's the partner that I respected the most out of all partners that I've had," Price said, "just the way he carried himself this whole season. He's a guy that's a champion and I have the utmost respect for him."

Niemi is 242-140-57 in 464 NHL games (443 starts) through 11 seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins, Florida Panthers and Canadiens.

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