Bruins, Canadiens Renew NHL's Best Rivalry After Fantastic Starts to 2013 Season

Nicholas Goss@@NicholasGoss35Correspondent IFebruary 6, 2013

April 18, 2011; Montreal, QC, CANADA; Montreal Canadiens left wing Benoit Pouliot (57) and Boston defenseman Andrew Frerence (21) fight during the first period of game three of the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs at the Bell Center. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL's best rivalry will resume on Wednesday night when the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens meet at the Bell Centre with first place in the Northeast Division on the line.

This rivalry lost a bit of its luster last season because the Canadiens were not the playoff contender they had been in previous years, and none of the six games were memorable. There were no 8-6 games with a lot of fights or dominant 7-0 victories like we saw during the 2010-11 season.

Boston won last year's season series 4-2 after losing the first two games, but taking four games from Montreal will be a much tougher challenge in 2013.

"Last year they ran into a lot of injuries," said Bruins head coach Claude Julien on Tuesday. "They certainly weren't as bad as the standings showed."

Montreal finished last in the Northeast in 2011-12, but as Julien points out, injuries were a major problem.

This season, the Canadiens are a tougher, deeper and better-coached team. After a 6-2 start to the year, they are full of confidence and believe that a playoff berth is a realistic goal.

Unlike last year, Montreal has the size and strength required to beat the Bruins. The offseason additions of Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong and Francis Bouilion have added some much-needed toughness and grit to the Canadiens lineup. All three of these forwards are also willing to drop the gloves if needed.

The Bruins won't have Shawn Thornton or Daniel Paille for Wednesday's game, but recent AHL call-ups Lane MacDermid and Jamie Tardif will add some "sandpaper" to the Boston lineup for what promises to be a physical battle against the Canadiens.

"They're playing with an edge right now," said Julien. "They've added some bigger bodies, but their game is still the same; it's about speed, it's about transition, it's about their attack and that hasn't changed."

The return of star defenseman Andrei Markov from injury, who joins a talented blue line that includes Josh Gorges, Raphael Diaz, Alexei Emelin, Yannick Weber and P.K. Subban, has given new head coach Michel Therrien great defensive depth, which was a major weakness of last year's squad.

One similarity between these fierce rivals is the strength of their goaltending. These teams have two of the best goaltenders in the NHL.

Montreal's Carey Price ranks fourth in GAA (1.70), fifth in save percentage (.938) and has won six games in a row. He's the early favorite for the Vezina Trophy and is very familiar with the Bruins and Canadiens rivalry.

Price has played exceptionally against the Bruins throughout his career, while Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask has often struggled versus the Canadiens.

Career Stats
Carey Price vs. BOS
15-7-3 2.54 .918 1
Tuukka Rask vs. MON
1-6-1 2.76 .908 0

Rask has been phenomenal this season with a 5-1-1 record, a 2.10 GAA and a .919 save percentage. As expected, he's adjusted to the No. 1 role very well, and Rask will have to be Boston's best player to earn his team a win on Wednesday night.

The Canadiens average 3.3 goals per game, which is the fifth-best mark in the NHL, and they have a much more talented and deeper group of forwards than the Bruins faced last season.

Rookie center Alex Galchenyuk, who was the third overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft, has emerged as an early Calder Trophy candidate thus far. He has seven points (one goal, six assists) in eight games and is giving Montreal the scoring depth that it didn't have last season.

The Canadiens blue line has also been a major contributor to the team's scoring success. Veteran defensemen Andrei Markov and Raphael Diaz both have eight points in eight games, and after missing a few games working on a new contract, star defenseman P.K. Subban has two points in two games.

The Canadiens have plenty of offensive firepower, and for the Bruins to prevent the crowd from being a major factor early in this game, Rask needs to dominate the first period, especially when his team is on the penalty kill. The last situation that any team wants to be in at the Bell Centre is facing a multiple-goal deficit after 20 minutes.

This is a statement game for both teams, especially with first place in the Northeast Division up for grabs.

For the Canadiens, it's an opportunity to show the Bruins and the league that they are legitimate contenders for the division title and a tougher team to beat than last year. Boston will be looking to prove that its still the class of the Northeast and capable of winning at the Bell Centre, where the Bruins are 2-4-1 in their last seven games (including playoffs).

"It's a great rivalry for us against that team," said Julien. "But you got to acknowledge the fact that they are probably better than a lot of people have given them credit for and they give us good games all the time. We're excited about playing that team."


Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He's also covered the Boston Bruins since the 2010-11 season, and was B/R's on-site reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs in Boston. All quotes obtained firsthand or from Bruins media website.


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