And so it comes down to this.
The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs meet tonight (7 p.m, CBC, Leafs TV) in a game freighted with significance for the Habs, whose playoff hopes likely depend on getting a result.
It's also an important game for the Leafs, who would love to show their fans that they've accomplished at least one worthwhile thing in this miserable season: putting it to their old enemy.
Defenceman Garnet Exelby summed up the Toronto dressing room's prevailing ethos: "if we can't be in the playoffs, why should (Montreal)?"
More than one member of the Canadiens owned up to keeping tabs on the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers on Friday night - a Philly victory would have ensured the Habs' participation in the playoffs.
"I was out for dinner with my parents, but I got back in time to watch the third," said winger Mathieu Darche, who will sub in for tonight's season-closing tilt with the Toronto Maple Leafs. "Pretty wild game, it would have been a lot worse for us if it had gone to overtime."
As it is, the Canadiens must take at least one point from tonight's game to assure a playoff spot, if they fail they will be forced to depend on results elsewhere, primarily Sunday's game between the Flyers and Rangers in Philadelphia.
"Tonight, it's still up to us," said Montreal forward Travis Moen.
The Habs will hand the net to Jaroslav Halak, who has emerged as the team's de facto number one goalie - although he has won only three of his last nine starts.
It's also expected Montreal will dress seven defencemen rather than put blue-liner and power-play specialist Marc-Andre Bergeron on a forward line.
Quebec-born Jean-Sebastien Giguere gets the start in the Toronto cage, and the Leafs have called up minor-league centre Tim Brent, who will make his debut in blue and white.
"We're rewarding him, he's going to play tonight," said Toronto coach Ron Wilson, "we had one call-up left so we decided to use it."Report Typo/Error