BROSSARD, Quebec (AP) — The Montreal Canadiens are happy to be getting ready for what could a hard-fought first-round playoff series against the Ottawa Senators.
The Canadiens were last in the Eastern Conference a year ago and by late April were well into their offseason routines.
Now they face a best-of-seven conference quarterfinal against their closest geographical rival.
"It's tough when you finish in 15th place," Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban said Monday. "Some guys are going home right now and some are going to the world championship.
"Some are going to start training in another week and a half. We're still playing hockey. We're privileged to do that, but we worked hard to put ourselves in that position and now we'll work hard to keep playing. We know what the ultimate goal is."
The series will start late because the NHL wanted to give Ottawa and Boston an extra day off after their makeup game. The Bell Centre was booked for a Rihanna concert on Wednesday night, so it will start on Thursday. Another concert by singer Marie-Mai set for Friday night was canceled to make way for hockey.
The Canadiens ended up second in the conference when the Senators knocked off the Bruins 4-2 in Boston on Sunday night in a game postponed by the Boston Marathon bombings two weeks ago.
Montreal will face the seventh-place Senators in the playoffs for the first time, with the opening two games at the Bell Centre on Thursday and Friday night before moving to Ottawa for Game 3 on Sunday. The teams have never really had a heated rivalry, but that may change when they meet in the postseason.
"Whenever we go to Ottawa there's a big Canadiens following (there)," Subban said. "There's going to be a lot of energy in both Scotiabank Place and the Bell Centre.
"But I played world juniors there (in 2008). I've seen that place when it's full, for high-intensity games, and it's a fun place to play. We're very lucky to have two Canadian teams in the first round. I mean, there's going to be one national anthem before the game and the Canadian flag will be passed around. It's a cool atmosphere to be in."
The Senators, who lost four times in the postseason to their other rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs, a decade ago, are also looking forward to a first meeting with Montreal.
"They have a pretty good team over there," Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson said. "They have come a long way all year and they found a way to win the division, especially after having a subpar year last year, so they are definitely feeling good about themselves.
"It's a good atmosphere building and a tough building to go into, but we are looking forward to the atmosphere those buildings bring."