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Northeast
Michael Farber
October 13, 2008
MONTREAL Canadiens
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October 13, 2008

Northeast

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MONTREAL
Canadiens

LAST SEASON
47-25-10, 1st in East; lost in second round to Flyers

KEY ADDITIONS
G Marc Denis, C Robert Lang, LW Georges Laraque, LW Alex Tanguay

KEY LOSSES
RW Michael Ryder, C Bryan Smolinski, D Mark Streit

THIS IS one five-year plan that worked. Drafting judiciously and developing players deliberately, general manager Bob Gainey has righted the stumbling organization and is delivering a Stanley Cup contender on schedule and in time for the Canadiens' celebration of their 100th year.

It even appeared last spring that Montreal might be 12 months ahead of plan, but its surprising first-place Eastern Conference finish (fueled by flashy winger Alexei Kovalev's comeback season and a freakish run of good health that resulted in a mere 109 man-games lost to injury) was followed by a disappointing second-round exit from the playoffs. Gainey has since upgraded his team to a level that has then mayor Jean Drapeau's renowned 1969 remark about the Stanley Cup parade—"the usual route"—on the tip of Montrealers' tongues.

The main uncertainty involves the power play. After fretting about the departure of free agent Sheldon Souray a year ago, the Canadiens eschewed the concept of a traditional power-play unit, stuck with their regular lines and finished first in the league with 90 man-up goals, splitting them evenly between home and the road. With the catalyst of that power play, Mark Streit, lost to free agency, Montreal will need special teams help from Kovalev and perhaps trade acquisition Robert Lang, a 37-year-old with a righthanded shot whose legs are tired but whose hands are still sweet.

Assuming precocious second-year goalie Carey Price can avoid a meltdown in the playoffs—Philadelphia's insistent pressure got to him last spring—the Canadiens are deep enough to vie for a spot in the finals. For Montreal anything less will be a lousy birthday present.

BOSTON
Bruins

LAST SEASON
41-29-12, 8th in East; lost in first round to Canadiens

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