Habs fighting off their demons

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:15 AM ET

Halloween doesn't arrive for another three-plus weeks, but that won't stop the Montreal Canadiens from entering their own haunted house tonight, an eerie barn known as the Air Canada Centre.

When the Habs step onto the ice for the nationally-televised matchup against their long-time rivals from Toronto, they will be attempting to exorcise personal demons that have been tormenting them for six months.

Back on April 7, the Canadiens needed just a win over the Leafs in their regular-season finale in order to clinch a playoff berth. And when coach Guy Carbonneau's squad built up a 5-3 second-period lead, spirits were high in la belle province.

But the Habs hopes were quickly squashed when the Leafs rebounded for a thrilling 6-5 comeback victory, overcoming Michael Ryder's hat trick to eliminate the Canadiens from post-season contention.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN

Ryder, a native of Newfoundland, spent much of the offseason on the Rock pondering what might have been.

"We want to go out there and prove to them that we are a different team this year,"Ryder said yesterday. "That loss probably made us a better team in the long run but, I admit, I thought about that game all summer.

"We'd have made the playoffs had we won that night."

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA

Having won their season opener 3-2 over the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday, the Habs come to town toting their own colourful cache of intriguing story lines.

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA

One of those revolves around the enigmatic Alexei Kovalev, who was about as noticeable as Jimmy Hoffa in the Canadiens' season-ending loss to the Leafs. Both Carbonneau and general manager Bob Gainey have prodded Kovalev, both in private and in the media, to pick up his game but, in the end, you are never sure what you'll get whenever Kovalev steps onto the ice.

"I don't know why you guys bring up the past,"Kovalev bristled when asked about his previous visit to the Air Canada Centre. "I don't look back."


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