Canadiens like future, unhappy with present

BROSSARD, Que. (AP) - The Montreal Canadiens believe that their future is bright. They just wish this season didn't end as quickly as it did.

The Canadiens, surprising Eastern Conference finalists a year ago, had their sights set on getting at least that far this time around, but holding a better seed didn't produce results nearly as good.

Instead of moving on to face top-seeded Washington in the second round of the NHL playoffs, the Canadiens were back home Thursday after a Game 7 overtime loss on Wednesday in Boston.

"It's about a team," left wing Michael Cammalleri said. "For us to get to where we want to go we need a deep solid team that can do special things. Winning a Stanley Cup isn't normal. It's not something you just play OK and do, it's exceptional and you need to have that.

"That's the exciting part for us. I think we have some really good veterans, but we have some exciting young hockey players."

The Canadiens made their unexpected run to hockey's final four last year as the No. 8 seed before losing to No. 7 Philadelphia in the East finals. Montreal was the No. 6 seed this year and jumped out to a 2-0 lead over the Bruins with two wins in Boston, but couldn't sustain the momentum.

All-Star goalie Carey Price and rookie defenseman P.K. Subban were among the players Cammalleri singled out by name, along with forward Lars Eller and injured left wing Max Pacioretty, who said he was cleared for contact earlier in the day.

The American forward sustained a severe concussion and a broken neck vertebrae on March 8, the result of a devastating hit by Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.

Pacioretty had a CT scan on Wednesday and a concussion test on Tuesday. He expected to get the go-ahead to return to practice with the team had the Canadiens beaten Boston in Game 7.

"Watching the game, I can't even tell you how nervous I was," Pacioretty said. "It basically decided if I was going to play again this year or if I had to wait until next year. Obviously, the outcome wasn't how I wanted but I'm going to be ready for next year."

Chara drove Pacioretty headfirst into a stanchion at the end of the visiting team's bench in Montreal. The 6-foot-9 defenseman was given a major penalty and a game misconduct, though the NHL decided not to suspend him.

"I think he regrets what he did," Pacioretty said. "I forgive him because he definitely made an effort to contact me and to go out of his way and tell me how he felt. I really respect him for that."

It is clear that the level of respect, despite the animosity between the teams, soared for the Canadiens and the Bruins during the closely contested series. It was the 33rd time the Original Six rivals have met in the playoffs, but only the ninth time that Boston prevailed.

Subban took the high road when he was asked to respond to Bruins goalie Tim Thomas' criticism of him during a radio interview Thursday on a Boston radio station.

"Well, you know, everyone has their own opinion," said Subban, whose power-play goal with 1:57 left in regulation sent Game 7 into overtime. "I'm just happy today that we can talk about the Montreal Canadiens and what we're going to be doing in the future."

Subban excelled this season after he was paired with veteran Hal Gill, one of six Montreal defenseman eligible to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Also in that group is Andrei Markov, who sustained a season-ending knee injury that limited him to seven games. Josh Gorges, whose season was also cut short by a knee injury, is one of nine restricted free agents.

Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier had 11 defensemen on the payroll this season, with only Subban and Czech veteran Jaroslav Spacek under contract for next season.

James Wisniewski and Brent Sopel, two acquisitions brought in following the injuries to Markov and Gorges, and Roman Hamrlik are also potential unrestricted free agents.

"There's not one person here today that said, 'I don't want to come back,"' Gauthier said. "There's a really strong feeling around the team. It was hard this morning. We wanted to do better but there's also this sense of strength and optimism and pride, and that's what we're hearing from the players."