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Domi could see NHL playoffs for first time in extended format

Panthers forward Noel Acciari chats with Jac Collinsworth about what happened when the NHL paused the season, his family's plan for their first child, and why there's no shape like hockey shape,

Max Domi is still waiting to suit up in the playoffs for the first time. If the NHL expands its postseason format to complete the 2019-20 season, he might get that chance this year,

The Montreal Canadiens sat 12th in the Eastern Conference and were destined to be on the outside looking in for a third straight spring - and the fourth time in five years - when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the league to press pause March 12.

Plenty of scenarios have been rumored as possibilities if the NHL decides to resume, with the latest being a 20- or 24-team playoff tournament. A 20-club format wouldn’t include the Canadiens, but they’d just sneak in under the second option. Montreal was 24th in the overall standings at 31-31-9, and 24th in points percentage, when the season was suspended.

''Oh man, it’s my dream to play in the playoffs. It’s everyone’s dream,’' said Domi, a veteran of 375 NHL games. ''It’s very difficult to get there. ... I can’t speak to what it’s like. I haven’t experienced that.’'

Drafted 12th overall by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2013, Domi’s last postseason outing came in the spring of 2015 with the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights.

He didn’t get close to the playoffs in three seasons with the Coyotes before getting traded to the Canadiens for Alex Galchenyuk in June 2018. Montreal finished with 96 points last season, but fell short of the East’s second wild card.

The 25-year-old has been part of big moments - he played in three straight Memorial Cups with London and was a member of Canada’s gold-medal winning 2015 world junior team - and watched his father, former Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy Tie Domi, battle in memorable postseason clashes.

Now he wants his turn.

''Everyone elevates their game to a whole other level,’' Max Domi said of grinding for the Stanley Cup. ''It’s night and day from an 82-game regular-season schedule.’'

Skilled enough to make plays and distribute the puck, the 5-foot-10, 192-pound forward isn’t afraid to throw his weight around, trash talk opponents or go to the tough areas of the ice.

If the NHL holds a postseason tournament this summer and the Canadiens are included, it could be a chance for Domi, who’s set to become a restricted free agent after completing the final season of a two-year, $6.3-million contract, to show his value.

''We believe in each other,’' Domi said of a team that would be backstopped by a rested Carey Price in goal. ''We know we can win hockey games. Whoever that’s against, wherever that is, I’m sure we’ll be ready to play.’'

A natural wing, the Canadiens have converted Domi into a center, with mixed results, behind No. 1 option Phillip Danault. Domi had 28 goals and 72 points in 2018-19, but had just 17 goals and 44 points through 71 games before this season was halted.

''I very much still enjoy playing center,’' he said. ''That’s something that I never would have thought I enjoyed doing as much as I do. I’ve been a winger for my pro entire career leading up to this. Then trying center I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is a whole different game.’ I really enjoyed it.’'

Domi, who’s been self-isolating and training in Toronto during the novel coronavirus outbreak, has worked on faceoffs with coaches and veteran teammates - he bumped his average up four points to 48.9 per cent this season - but has also been moved back to the wing at times.

But wherever he lines up, getting a shot at showing his wares in the playoffs trumps all.

''I will definitely be ready to go,’' Domi said. ''I’m excited about that opportunity whenever it comes.’'