TORONTO - The Montreal Canadiens return to the scene of the crime Saturday night.
The Air Canada Centre was the site of a devastating loss to the rival Toronto Maple Leafs last April 7, the last regular-season game for both teams. A win by the Habs would have guaranteed the eighth and final playoff spot but in a wild and entertaining affair, Montreal was beaten 6-5.
"It was definitely in our mind for a long time," Canadiens defenceman Mike Komisarek said Friday after practice. "We had all summer to think about it - to think about how close we were. But while it's definitely not forgotten, we're not dwelling on it."
They did plenty of dwelling for the days after their stunning exit. The Habs were comfortably in a playoff spot for most of last season before a late-season collapse set up a must-win at Toronto.
And things looked good when winger Chris Higgins put them up two goals with 5:29 left in the second period.
"I can't believe that was the last game for us," said Higgins. "It'll be in my mind and I think fresh in a lot of the guys' minds (Saturday night). At the same time, it's just the first of eight games against them."
Funny, though, how each player seems to remember every detail of the crushing defeat.
"It was definitely an emotional roller-coaster, it was back and forth," recalled Komisarek. "They were up 3-1, then we were up 5-3, and then a 6-5 loss. A lot of what-ifs."
Carlo Calaiacovo's goal with 2:14 left in the second period cut the lead to 5-4 and then Canadiens winger Steve Begin took a four-minute high-sticking penalty at the buzzer.
That's the moment Habs veteran Mathieu Dandenault can't shake because the Canadiens felt it was a dubious call after Begin's follow-through on a shot clipped a Leafs player.
"I'd like to go back to the end of the second period when the buzzer point when we got that penalty after time expired," said Dandenault, when asked what part of the game he would want to replay. "It was a weird situation."
Bryan McCabe tied the game 5-5 on the ensuing power play early in the third period, setting up Kyle Wellwood's heroics at 3:43. The Habs left the ice looking like a deer in headlights.
"For sure, it was enormously frustrating," said Canadiens goalie Cristobal Huet, who gave up all six goals. "But what's in the past is in the past. It was a hurtful loss but we can learn from it."
Montreal captain Saku Koivu says the loss is not forgotten, but his team has moved on.
"Obviously we remember what happened but it happened last year and this is a new season," said Koivu, who scored two goals in the season opener Wednesday. "When things like that happened, it kind of makes you want to come back here and get those two points."
When it's Montreal and Toronto, the veteran Koivu said, it doesn't matter what's on the line.
Saturday's game (7 p.m. ET) will no doubt entertain once again.
"Even though it's an 82-game season and you always say, 'It's just one game,' it really isn't with these two teams," said Koivu. "You can sense the atmosphere and the attention before the game. These are fun games. The crowd is crazy and it doesn't matter if it's in Montreal or in Toronto. Those games are fun for the players."
Many pundits don't see Montreal getting back to the playoffs this season but the Canadiens have started well, winning 3-2 in overtime at Carolina on Wednesday night.
Dandenault says his team is a better this season despite what other may think.
"I think our skill level is higher, our work ethic is better, so is our system and overall play," he said. "I think we have four lines that play real well and know their roles. And defensively we're real solid. Overall we've improved in all facets of our team.
"Now it's just a matter of putting it all together and proving it. I thought we played real well in Carolina."