Boston-Montreal: Can the Bruins Defy History?
This first-round matchup between two of the original six teams in the NHL is not as one-sided as it may appear.
2004: The seventh-seeded Canadiens upset the second-seeded Bruins.
2008: The top-seeded Canadiens outlast the eighth-seeded Bruins in seven games.
Is anyone sensing a pattern here?
This will be the fourth time in seven seasons that these two rivals meet in the postseason.
This will also be the 32nd time overall that they have met in the playoffs, and if you were able to catch the pattern mentioned above, the Canadiens have dominated the Bruins in the postseason winning 24 of the previous 31 meetings.
Another thing that makes this playoff matchup intriguing is that the seeding has never really seemed to matter. When these two teams get on the ice, you are certain to get an instant classic.
Despite winning five of six from the Canadiens during the regular season, Bostonians are most likely feeling slightly nervous about this first round matchup despite their team’s obvious superiority in nearly every phase of the game.
As these two teams prepare to collide in postseason, there will undoubtedly be several nostalgic references as to these two teams and their significant places in the history of the game.
While these proud franchises prepare for their upcoming series, it will be the Canadiens who are the heavy underdog and seeking to pull a little more magic out of their helmet in this their 100th season.
(1) Boston Bruins, 53-19-10 (116 points)
Boston finished one point behind San Jose in the race for the President’s Trophy, and along with the Sharks, they are the only team to not lose 20 games on the season.
Compiling a 29-6-6 record at home, and earning the Conference’s top seed, the Bruins will be heavy favorites to advance to the Stanley Cup this season.
Boston has been clicking on all cylinders all year, and has the hottest goalie in the league in Tim Thomas.
Thomas, the prohibitive favorite for the Vezina Trophy, has played stellar hockey all season. Having a goaltender with a 2.10 goals against average and .933 save percentage, both tops in the league, makes the Bruins a threat to sweep any series they play in this season.
Oh, not to mention, the Bruins are the only team in the NHL who did not surrender 200 goals in the regular season; Boston allowed a league low 196 goals.
While we don’t have much to work with in regards to Thomas and playoff experience, he has yet to buckle in the regular season, and is playing with as much confidence in net as anyone this side of New Jersey.
As previously mentioned, it will not so much be the Canadiens that the Bruins are battling, but rather history itself.
Losing 24 of 31 postseason matchups, especially the first round contests in 2002 and ’04 where they were the one and two seed respectively, will certainly be lingering on Boston’s mind.
Led by Marc Savard (88 points), Boston gets contributions from nearly everyone on their roster.
The Bruins have 10 players who have scored 39 or more points this season. They also have 11 players who are playing at +15 or better.
Boston’s power play, operating at 23.3 percent, was fifth best in the league. Going up against a Canadiens penalty kill that succeeded at a modest 82.4 percent should serve as one of the key matchups for the series.
There is not much disparity between these two clubs in regards to their special teams, so it could be on the power-play that this series is won.
Another big advantage for the Bruins will be their physical superiority over Montreal.
Boston should be able to gain position in front of the net, down in the corners and control the blue line with relative ease; they pushed Montreal around in all six of their matchups this season.
The presence of the 6’10” Zdeno Chara will also create problems for the Canadiens, especially if he is allowed to let his big slap-shot go into an array of traffic meshed in front of Carey Price.
(8) Montreal Canadiens, 41-30-11 (93 points)
Alexei Kovalev (65 points) will lead a slightly overmatched Montreal team into Boston in the first round of the playoffs.
History favors the Canadiens.
Montreal has won 24 of 31 postseason series between the two clubs, and has upset Boston twice this decade in the first round when the Bruins were either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed.
The spirits from the old Montreal Forum will be watching over the Canadiens as they attempt to pull off one of the biggest playoff upsets in this, their 100th season.
Asides from being on-par with Boston in the special teams department, one big thing the Canadiens have going for them is that they will have the most talented player on either team in Kovalev hauling in about 20 minutes of ice-time a night.
For Montreal to steal a game in Boston, and make a series of this, they will need Kovalev to step up in a big way and carry the team on his back; Kovalev has 17 points in his last 10 games.
A win in Boston could create many problems for the Bruins.
Montreal finished the regular season with a 24-10-7 mark at home, the third fewest regulation losses of any team in the Eastern Conference, and a raucous Montreal crowd could rattle the fragile Boston psyche.
The most important player in this series may not even be Kovalev, Carey Price or Tim Thomas; it may be Andrei Markov and whether or not he is able to play in this first round matchup.
Markov, who was leading the team in scoring at 64 points until he went down on April fourth with a lower body injury, is the do-everything player for the Canadiens.
Markov leads the team in minutes played, keys the transition game, controls the tempo of the game from the blueline and is a focal point of the Habs special teams.
Anyone remember how bad the Pittsburgh Penguins had it early in the season without Sergei Gonchar?
Think that, and then amplify it by the fact that the Habs don’t have two of the three best players in the world in Crosby and Malkin to make up for it.
The quarterback of the offense, Markov makes everything go for Montreal and it is unclear when, and if, he will get back on the ice for the first round.
If Markov is unable to go, expect the weight of pressure to shift from the offense to the sophomore head of Carey Price.
The Habs young goaltender has struggled in the second half of the season, and stumbled to the gate with a 2.83 goals against average and .905 save percentage.
While Price has been successful despite being prematurely thrust into the spotlight at such a young age, he is good enough to play lights out and give the Canadiens a chance to steal a game or two.
The fate of this series will rest on how well the Montreal defense performs against Boston’s five-on-five attack.
The Bruins were the second best team in the NHL in scoring in five-on-five scenarios. It will be up to the coaching staff to design a game plan for Montreal in regards to neutralizing Boston’s balanced attack.
The other Hab defenders will also need to step up if Andrei Markov does not find his way into the lineup.
Carey Price will also need to mature quickly, and become the man in Montreal. If at any point we see Jaroslav Halak relieve Price, then it is safe to assume that things are not going well for Montreal.
The key matchup for this series will be the Boston Bruins...against...the Boston Bruins...
Boston is the heavy favorite out of the East to reach the Cup Finals. They will need to keep their emotions in check, and subdue the demons from battles past.
Montreal will have history, and a rabid home crowd, on their side. Boston will need to stay mentally strong and not let things get out of hand.
Keep in mind that it was just a few days ago that Montreal managed to escape Boston with a point from overtime that ultimately got them into the playoffs.
Stupid penalties by Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton are the ultimate reason that Bostonhas the Habs in round one and not the Florida Panthers.
History will be on the side of Montreal, and if Boston can not exorcise their demons, this could be another shocking waiting in the wings.
Despite having history, and the significance of their 100th season lingering, Boston should still come out of this series victorious and move on to the second round.
If Montreal can steal one of the first two games in Boston don’t be surprised if the Canadiens pull it out in six games, but ultimately I see Boston emerging victorious in seven.
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