TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs will be anticipating the playoffs and the Montreal Canadiens will only be able to look forward to next season when the teams meet in their final game of the regular season on Saturday night.
The Maple Leafs looked like a team that was more interested in looking ahead to the playoffs than the remainder of the regular season Thursday when they lost to the Devils 2-1 in New Jersey.
“I thought this was fair,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said after the game Thursday. “I thought the team that worked the hardest won. I thought they were more desperate early. We weren’t good enough defensively. We didn’t compete hard enough. I thought we competed hard as the game went on.
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“We had our chances but, in the end, we couldn’t overcome it. The bottom line is we’ve got one more game. This is our last chance to get ready but we’re going to have to get to another level than we were tonight for sure.”
The Canadiens, meanwhile, looked like a team that is making the most of what is left of the season when they defeated the Red Wings 4-3 in Detroit on Thursday.
“I’m not used to losing. I don’t like to lose,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said. “But at the same time, I have to be objective and look at the situation and there were some challenges along the way that we didn’t expect, a number of injuries, and players having to move up in the lineup in areas they weren’t quite ready for.”
The Maple Leafs (48-26-7) do have something to play for Saturday at the Air Canada Centre. The loss to the Devils kept them at 103 points, which equals a franchise best for a season. So, they still have a chance to set a franchise record for total points in a season.
“Two different situations but we’re all competitive people and we’re all very prideful,” Toronto center Nazem Kadri said. “That’s what got us here in the first place, so I don’t think we take any games off. Obviously, we didn’t start (Thursday) the way we wanted to, but I felt that we made a push.”
Goaltender Frederik Andersen will be trying for a club record 38th win in a season by a Toronto netminder on Saturday.
Still, the playoffs will be on the minds of the Maple Leafs.
“You’re focusing on these games to get ready for the playoffs,” said Toronto center William Nylander, who scored the goal Thursday. “So, whatever we’re doing now is trying to get prepared for the playoffs.”
Nylander became the sixth Maple Leafs player to reach 20 goals this season.
The Canadiens (29-39-13) have been dealing with injuries all season, including season-ending ones to their top defenseman Shea Weber (foot surgery) and their captain Max Pacioretty (knee).
“It’s unbelievable the number of injuries and the types of injuries,” Julien said. “When we started the season, we felt we had enough veterans and enough experience to bring in some young guys and still battle through and get ourselves in the playoffs. But there’s a lot of things that have happened and concussions are one of those issues that we’ve had more than we’d like.”
The Canadiens have had five players with concussions listed on the injury report this season.