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Montreal Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin looks up at the scoreboard after his team scored against the Boston Bruins in the third period of their NHL hockey game in Boston, Massachusetts March 2, 2010. REUTERS/Brian Snyder


This is the time of year when a cavalcade of begins to pour forth from NHL dressing rooms.

Which explains why the Montreal Canadiens got a head start on the postseason this weekend with an old chestnut: the circuitousness of the route you take doesn't matter as long as you ultimately reach destination.

To a cynic's ear that may have the ring of comfortable fiction - particularly when you consider they're now faced with the threshing machine that is the Washington Capitals - but the Canadiens don't much care.

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As coach Jacques Martin said, trotting out the shopworn maxim: "It's a new season."

"I don't think it matters where you finished, and I think this is going to be a new series with new objectives, new goals, new strategies. And both teams start with the same amount of victories and you're starting on the same level. You work 82 games to prepare yourself to get to the next level," Martin said.

The Habs are in - on the strength of the point earned this weekend in a harrowing overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs - the rest doesn't matter.

"The first objective is getting in, and then you take it from there," associate captain Brian Gionta said. "Regardless of whether you have momentum or not going in, everyone has four days off to rest up and regroup … it is what it is."

The Canadiens were given a day off yesterday and will return to the ice this morning and turn their thoughts to this week's trip to D.C., where they will take on the heavily favoured, Presidents' Trophy-winning Caps.

It might seem a daunting prospect on paper - Alexander Ovechkin strikes terror in all right-thinking defencemen and goaltenders - but the Canadiens have played the Capitals tough this year (2-1-1) with three encounters decided by one goal and one each in overtime and a shootout.

That's why there was no particular feeling of angst in the Habs' camp over blowing a chance to lock up seventh by beating the Leafs.

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"You're not going to get me to say we're afraid of anyone … in this room, we know that when we play good games we can beat anybody," said winger Michael Cammalleri.

A year ago, the Canadiens lost defenceman Andrei Markov and four consecutive games to end the season and were quickly dispatched by conference champion Boston.

This year, they limp in on the back of three straight losses, having chalked up a meagre three wins in their last 11 starts.

There will also be questions about nominal starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who was poor on Saturday and hasn't played against Washington this season (Carey Price started all four games), familiar questions about the team's scoring punch, and a new storyline involving the Kostitsyn brothers after third-line winger Sergei was a healthy scratch on Saturday and second-line winger Andrei took in almost the entire third period from the bench.

That said, the top unit of Gionta, Scott Gomez and Benoit Pouliot played its best game in a couple of weeks on Saturday, Cammalleri seems to be back to his menacing best, and - most importantly of all - Markov is healthy and typically dominant.

As Cammalleri's said on Saturday: "We're not just happy to make the playoffs, we want to win the Stanley Cup"

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"As professional athletes that's how we think, and it's how we have to think," he added.

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