“Montreal Canadiens might be the best story in hockey right now,” tweets Sid Seixeiro, who is part of Sportsnet’s Tim and Sid Show.

Even people in Toronto are taking notice of the new-look Canadiens, with players like Max Domi, left, and Tomas Tatar making coach Claude Julien look good on a nightly basis. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette

Before taping The Montreal Gazette’s weekly HI/O Show for hockeyinsideout.com Wednesday morning, I was having breakfast at the La Belle Province restaurant on Peel St. when I overheard a conversation between a customer and one of the cooks behind the counter.

“I thought I was giving up on watching the Habs this season,” the customer said. “Now, I’m watching every game.”

I imagine there are a lot of other Canadiens fans who feel the same way right now. What a difference a year makes.

When the Canadiens showed up for practice Thursday morning in Brossard, they were holding the first wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a 26-17-5 record after winning their last three games and four of the last five. They were tied in points with the Boston Bruins, who were in third place in the Atlantic Division and held a game in hand, and only one point behind the second-place Maple Leafs, who held three games in hand and had Toronto fans planning a Stanley Cup parade back in October. The Bruins and Leafs both played Thursday night.

At this time last season, the Canadiens were both bad and boring with a 20-22-6 record en route to finishing 28th in the overall NHL standings and putting fans who were still watching to sleep most games.

Now, even people in Toronto are noticing the Canadiens, who are a lot of fun to watch.

“Montreal Canadiens might be the best story in hockey right now,” Sid Seixeiro, who is part of the Tim and Sid Show on Sportsnet, tweeted after the Canadiens beat the Florida Panthers 5-1 Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.

Tweeted former Maple Leafs beat reporter Howard Berger: “Habs clobber Florida tonight. Leafs now just one point north of Wild Card playoff territory in the East. Unthinkable at start of season.”

People who bet on hockey have really liked the Canadiens this season. Gambling.com published a story by Adrian Dater on Wednesday that listed the Canadiens as the best team to wager money on this season according to the “puck line”. To win a bet on the puck line, the favourite must either win by two or more goals or the underdog must not lose by more than one goal.

“If you’ve bet on the Canadiens as the underdog on the puck line this season, you’ve likely done very well money-wise,” Dater wrote. “Montreal has a sterling 25-7 record as a puck line underdog so far.”

Dater added: “Montreal is looking like a very good bet to make the playoffs. Don’t expect them to be puck line underdogs quite as often from here on out.”

After practice Thursday in Brossard, Canadiens defenceman Jordie Benn was asked if he looks often at the NHL standings.

“Every now and then … like every day,” Benn said with a big smile beneath his bushy beard.

As for being only one point behind the Maple Leafs, Benn said: “It is what it is. We wanted to prove some people wrong. Obviously, we weren’t getting talked about like the Leafs were, but we’re here and we’re right behind them and we want to get to the top. So we just got to keep going.”

When coach Claude Julien was asked about closing in on the Leafs, he said: “Well, they got games in hand, too. So I don’t get too, too high on that. At the end of the day, our main goal is to make the playoffs and the other part is to try and continue to get better, continue to be consistent, and making sure we don’t get too high or too low.”

Despite the Canadiens’ surprising success, there are still reasons for concern — like the fact they allowed 96 shots on goal in the last two games with goalies Carey Price and Antti Niemi stealing a couple of wins. The Canadiens also have the worst power play in the NHL, clicking at only 12.9 per cent. You have to wonder how many more victories the Canadiens might have if they were even middle-of-the-pack on the power play.

“The way we played our last two games, giving up I think 96 shots, we shouldn’t stand there and accept that,” Julien said. “We should be happy we won the games — and rightfully so. At the same time, it’s nice to see your goaltenders steal some games for you because every team needs that. But, at the same time, I’d like our team not to have to rely on them to do that too often. We need to be a little bit better. I think defensively our commitment hasn’t been as good as it needs to be and that’s where we need to improve.”

But the Canadiens’ overall improvement from last season is quite remarkable.

“We’re starting to figure out how to win,” Benn said. “Obviously, we got to give a lot of credit to our goalies. They’ve been getting peppered a lot, so we obviously got to clean up a few things and just keep the train rolling.”

Canadiens fans will be watching.

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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