Canadiens-Maple Leafs Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated October 06, 2011
After suffering playoff heartbreak last spring, Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens are optimistic they can redeem themselves in 2011-12. The Toronto Maple Leafs are aiming to end the longest postseason drought in franchise history. Price and the Canadiens will try to get the new season off to a strong start when they face the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre on Thursday night. Montreal (44-30-8) appeared to on its way to the second round of the playoffs in April after taking a 2-0 series lead on the road versus Boston. However, the Canadiens dropped four of the next five with three of those defeats coming in overtime, including Game 7 when Nathan Horton beat them for a second time in sudden death. The Bruins went on to win the Stanley Cup. "That (loss to Boston) lingers in our head," said Price, who had a 2.11 goals-against average in that series. "We were that close to knocking off the top team in the league. So we're all going to try to take the necessary strides to make that push." Price silenced his doubters last season to emerge as Montreal's bona fide No. 1 goaltender. He posted career bests in games played (72), wins (38), shutouts (eight), GAA (2.35) and save percentage (.923) a year after losing his job to Jaroslav Halak. Price won three of four starts against the Maple Leafs (37-34-11), compiling a 1.01 GAA with two shutouts. Now, the offseason signing of free agent Erik Cole has the Canadiens hopeful for an improved offense. A big, physical forward, Cole had 26 goals and 26 assists for Carolina last season. The Canadiens are quite familiar with his talents, as he's totaled 18 goals and 14 assists in 34 meetings with Montreal. "Hopefully, I can have as much success with them as I've had playing against them," Cole said shortly after inking a four-year, $18 million dollar deal with Montreal on July 1. He joins a team that includes proven 20-goal scorers Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Michael Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec. Montreal biggest other addition might be winger Max Pacioretty, who returns from a major injury. Pacioretty's 2010-11 ended abruptly with a concussion and fractured vertebra on a hit from Boston's Zdeno Chara in March. He had career highs of 14 goals and 24 points in 37 games at the time. Meanwhile, defenseman Andrei Markov is still recovering from an ACL tear. He played only seven games last season as he returned from surgery, only to tear the ligament again, so P.K. Subban will be the club's top blue liner as the season begins. "We're a step ahead of lot of other teams in the league," Price said. "We have a lot of the same pieces as we had the previous season, so in that sense, we already have that chemistry." The Maple Leafs can't say that. They've seen major changes under general manager Brian Burke, who continues to make over a team that has failed to reach the playoffs for six straight seasons. Burke was outbid for the most coveted free agent of the summer, as Brad Richards opted to sign with the New York Rangers. Burke responded by signing Tim Connolly and trading for Matthew Lombardi, who played two games with Nashville last October and never returned from a concussion. Connolly, who had 13 goals and 29 assists for Buffalo in 2010-11, is expected to center the top line with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. James Reimer will try to prove he wasn't a fluke in net after going 20-10-5 with a 2.60 GAA as a rookie. The Leafs open the season with a five-game homestand, and a slow start may increase the pressure on coach Ron Wilson, who's in the final year of his contract. "I'm not worried about where we're going to be in two or three years," Wilson said. "My primary responsibility is making the playoffs this year and getting off to a good start." Toronto winger Clarke MacArthur, who led the team with 41 assists last season and whose 62 points were two shy of Kessel's club-high 64, opens 2011-12 serving a two-game suspension for hitting Detroit's Justin Abdelkader in the head during a preseason contest. The Maple Leafs and Canadiens split their six-game series in 2010-11, with each team winning two of three on its home ice.
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