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Montreal Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak raises his arms as he hugs teammate Josh Gorges (L) after defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins following Game 7 of their NHL Eastern Conference semi-final hockey series in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania May 12, 2010. (DAVID DENOMA/REUTERS)
Montreal Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak raises his arms as he hugs teammate Josh Gorges (L) after defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins following Game 7 of their NHL Eastern Conference semi-final hockey series in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania May 12, 2010. (DAVID DENOMA/REUTERS)

Canadiens savour success - briefly Add to ...

As a jubilant city nursed its Game 7 hangover - and in the case of Ste-Catherine St. merchants, swept up the last of the broken glass - the Montreal Canadiens took a day off to savour their berth in the Eastern Conference final.

But in the playoffs, success is fleeting, and so the celebrations must be.

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"I almost don't want to get too excited … winning just means you get to keep on going," leading scorer Michael Cammalleri said after Wednesday's Game 7 win over Pittsburgh.

The Canadiens received a heroes' welcome from a mob of several hundred flag-waving fans who gathered to meet the team's charter in Montreal early Thursday morning.

Said centre Scott Gomez: "The way we're going, I wish we could play tomorrow … we're going to try and keep the party going. The dance is just beginning, we just got our ticket to it."

A team that was given no chance by all but its most fanatical supporters at the beginning of the season is now listed at 5-1 to win the Stanley Cup in the Las Vegas sports books.

Officially, the Canadiens don't have a preference as to whom they would rather face, between the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins.

"Whatever it is, it is, you just get prepared," Cammalleri said.

Despite the public equanimity, there's a sense Boston would present the more manageable challenge.

Though getting goals might prove a rough slog - the Beantowners boast goaltender Tuukka Rask and Zdeno Chara, the most fearsome defenceman in the playoffs - the Bruins aren't exactly an offensive juggernaut, which means it will likely be easier to keep the puck out of the net than it was against either the Washington Capitals, Montreal's first-round victim, or the just-vanquished Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Flyers don't have Montreal's brand of goaltending brilliance to backstop them, but in winning three straight to even their series with Boston, they have demonstrated a surfeit of sandpaper, will, and gumption.

They also have red-hot snipers such as Daniel Brière and Simon Gagné to complement blood-and-guts playoff performers such as centre Mike Richards, redoubtable defenceman Chris Pronger and migraine-inducing agitator Daniel Carcillo.

Indeed, both the Flyers and Bruins feature the kind of wide-bodied players who tend to give the diminutive Habs fits - and perhaps they won't shy away from deploying them, as Washington and Pittsburgh inexplicably did, given the effectiveness of the Mike Knubles, Jordan Staals and Michael Rupps of the world in Montreal's crease.

Perhaps the best hope for the Habs lies in the fact that the Bruins and Flyers have been beating each other's brains out for two solid weeks, and whoever wins the series will surely emerge battered and diminished.

"We want those two to beat up on each other," Gomez said.

The Canadiens were swept by the Bruins in last year's playoffs, but rebounded emphatically to dominate their long-time foes 5-1 this regular season.

Though the Habs shared the spoils 2-2 in their season series with Philadelphia, the Flyers made short work of Montreal in a home-and-home series just before the Olympic break.

In the second of those games, in Montreal, the Flyers hung a comprehensive 6-2 pasting on Halak, chasing him from the net.

After playing 14 games at full playoff intensity in 28 days, the Canadiens are grateful for a few days' respite - the conference final will start Sunday night.

Everyone plays hurt in the playoffs, to a greater or lesser extent, but the break will surely be of particular benefit to defenceman Hal Gill, who is still recovering from a nasty cut to his left calf, courtesy of Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz.

But Gill is far from the only nicked-up Hab - defensive partner Josh Gorges has taken a pounding and has various minor ailments; centre Tomas Plekanec has been nursing a sore hip for several weeks; winger Travis Moen is dealing with the aftereffects of blocking an Evgeni Malkin shot.

Star rearguard Andrei Markov has resumed skating despite a rumoured anterior cruciate ligament tear in his right knee, but he remains the longest of long shots to play And the list is assuredly longer, although the Canadiens are being typically close mouthed about their injury report.

Follow on Twitter: @MrSeanGordon

 

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