BROSSARD, Que. -- Facing the Pittsburgh Penguins as coach of the Eastern Conference-leading Montreal Canadiens sets up a potential I-told-you-so moment for Michel Therrien.
But Therrien brushed aside any notion of revenge against the team that fired him then won the Stanley Cup with a backhand wave on Friday.
"It's going to be special, I'm not going to hide it," the 49-year-old coach said. "But I've got some great memories of my time in Pittsburgh.
"There are some players I know well. I have a lot of respect for them. But to play against your old team as a player or a coach is special."
The Canadiens (13-4-3) have been one of the surprises of the shortened NHL campaign after last season's last-place finish.
They go into tonight's contest against second-place Pittsburgh (13-7-0) on a run of nine games with at least a point (7-0-2) since their 6-0 loss to Toronto on Feb. 9.
Now they have a tough weekend in store, as they travel to division rival Boston on Sunday night.
Therrien began his NHL coaching career with Montreal in the early 2000s and then jumped to the Pittsburgh organization, where he coached in the minors before taking over the NHL squad after the last lockout in 2005.
With young stars like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang in his lineup, Therrien's team posted 105 points in 2005-06 and went to the Stanley Cup final the following season, losing in six games to Detroit.
But with the squad struggling, Therrien was abruptly sacked on Feb. 15, 2009 in favour of Dan Bylsma, who not only got the Penguins into the playoffs, but won the 2009 Stanley Cup in a seven-game thriller over the Red Wings.
Therrien hadn't coached since, but spent his time as an analyst on French-language television before new general manager Marc Bergevin made the surprise move of bringing him back to coach the Canadiens in June.
Blessed with a mostly healthy team and the addition of some extra grit among the forwards, the Canadiens have been on a tear since play resumed on Jan. 19.
There are some in hockey who felt Bylsma's success showed that Therrien didn't have what it takes to lead a team to a title. Others felt Therrien deserved another shot at being a head coach, and he looks to be proving them right.
Despite the slap of seeing his successor win the Cup that eluded him in Pittsburgh, Therrien sees his time there as a positive experience.
"I coached some guys that had great talent," he said. "They were 18 or 19 at the time.
"It was a challenge. No one expected us to be in a Stanley Cup final that quickly. We're in first place now and they're in second, but playing against that team is a challenge even if Malkin is out (with a concussion). There's only seven or eight guys left on that roster since I left, but the identity is always the same."
Still, when asked if he would put money up for his players for a win, Therrien laughed and said "what happens in the room stays in the room."
Tonight's game will also mark the return of right-winger Michael Ryder, who returned to the Canadiens this week in a surprise trade with the Dallas Stars for veteran Erik Cole.
-- The Canadian Press