It was Max Pacioretty who sealed the deal for the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night, scoring the overtime winner that propelled his hockey club over the Florida Panthers and granting his Habs a berth in the playoffs.
The best part? He wasn’t even aware of the implications of his goal.
“Actually I probably should have known, I probably should have assumed that we would have clinched, but it just didn’t cross my mind,” Pacioretty said. “It’s a good feeling. Our number one goal every camp is to make the playoffs, and now that we’ve done that, we’ve got a big goal to fill.”
That big goal is apparent. Last year, the Canadiens lost to the New York Rangers in six games in the Eastern Conference Final. This year, they won’t be satisfied with a similar fate.
The Habs lead the Eastern Conference with a 47-21-8 record, one point ahead of the Rangers who lost to the Bruins on Saturday.
The play of goalie Carey Price has been a big part of their success. He has 41 wins, good enough for tops in the NHL. He has a 1.88 goals against average and a .937 save percentage. He has nine shutouts, tying Marc-Andre Fleury for the league lead.
Despite perhaps not knowing the exact moment of clinching their berth in the post-season, the Canadiens say they always knew how the fates would turn out.
“I’m pretty sure we knew we were going to be in the playoffs by this time of the year,” said Alex Galchenyuk. “It’s nice to have, but we knew we were up there. Getting home-ice advantage is huge for us. It’s going to be big for us in the playoffs and that’s what we’re working on.”
So now, with their third consecutive year in the post-season assured, the Canadiens are hoping to hold the line at first in the Eastern Conference. They’ve got six games to go in the regular season and the Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning could threaten the crown.
“That’s where we want to be,” Lars Eller said. “We’re happy, but we’re not satisfied.”