It’s NHL playoff time and two Original Six teams will add another chapter to a storied history between bitter rivals.
This is the 33rd post-season meeting between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens, with Montreal leading 24-8, but a heated year highlighted by irregularities has further escalated the feud to a new level.
During the six-game regular season series between the two teams there has been: A blowout 7-0 win for Boston, an overtime victory for Montreal, a contest with seven fights and 187 penalty minutes and a moment of complete silence in the Bell Centre while the career of one of their promising young forwards hung in the balance incurred by a controversial hit from Boston’s captain.
For some, the matchup has created feelings of nostalgia, being reminded of “old time hockey” and marvelling at the competitiveness between the clubs, while others have been outraged by some of the brutality, climaxing when Zdeno Chara drove Max Pacioretty into a stanchion.
(3) Boston Bruins
Boston (46-25-11) finished first in the Northeast Division with 103 points, led by the play of 36-year-old goaltender Tim Thomas, who had nine shutouts and set an NHL record with a .938 save percentage.
The Bruins are looking to erase last year’s disappointing second-round exit at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers. Boston became only the third team in NHL history to lose a playoff series after leading 3-0 and falling 4-3 in seven games.
Up front, David Krejci and Milan Lucic tied for the team lead with 62 points. The major difference between the two is Lucic also picked up 121 penalty minutes, his combination of scoring and toughness reminiscent of the Big Bad Bruins days.
Centre Marc Savard remains out of the lineup after only playing 25 games this season before suffering his second concussion in less than 10 months in January.
(6) Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens (44-30-8) have a team built around speed, goaltending and timely scoring, boasting the likes of two-way star Tomas Plekanec, a rejuvenated Carey Price, feisty captain Brian Gionta and emerging young defenceman P.K. Subban.
Last year at this time, Montreal entered the playoffs with the expectation of being run over by the superior (or so many people thought) Washington Capitals. Instead, the Habs went on a dream run all the way to the conference finals, also defeating Sidney’s Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins en route.
However, the Canadiens did it on the back of goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who was traded to the St. Louis Blues in the off-season.
Price was in net for all but 10 games this season, and is going to have to continue his stellar play in the playoffs. His 2.35 goals-against average is ranked sixth and his .923 save percentage was tied for third among goalies who started 60+ games this season.
Pacioretty has skated with the team but isn’t close to returning. Neither are defencemen Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges, who both suffered season-ending injuries.
Keys to the Series
The Habs will likely continue to rely on Price to make the first save, focusing on collecting rebounds and springing their counter attack along the boards.
The speed and finesse attributed to “Les Glorieux” can be problematic as the team is diminutive on average, accentuated by a top line with an average height of 5-10. This tag of small and soft does not bode well in a sport where attributes like “heart” and “grit” are viewed as essential.
Boston on the other hand would be described as ample on the grit side, and will look to exploit this advantage, the way they did during their two victories against the Canadiens this year. The Bruins should not only use their size to intimidate their opponents but to win battles in the corners and use big bodies to screen Price.
While grit and toughness will be on Boston’s side, they will need to execute their physical game plan within reason as Montreal owns the league’s seventh-best power play and used it effectively against Beantown during the regular season, winning four out of the six games.
A winner in this series may be hard to determine, the degree of excitement surrounding it shouldn’t be.
Thursday, April 14: Montreal at Boston, 7 p.m., CBC
Saturday, April 16: Montreal at Boston, 7 p.m., CBC
Monday, April 18: Boston at Montreal, 7:30 p.m., CBC
Thursday, April 21: Boston at Montreal, 7 p.m., CBC
x-Saturday, April 23: Montreal at Boston, 7 p.m., CBC
x-Tuesday, April 26: Boston at Montreal, TBA, CBC
x-Wednesday, April 27: Montreal at Boston, TBA, CBC
x – if necessary
Janis Bunkis: I’ve got Boston in seven, with a ton of thrills.
Lauren Millet: Montreal in seven.