The Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins will meet for the third time this season on Wednesday night at TD Garden with first place in the Northeast Division on the line.
These two rivals are tied atop the division standings with 45 points. They will meet just one more time in the regular season after this game.
The team that wins this matchup will take another step toward winning the season series, which could be important if the division title and the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed are determined by a tiebreaker.
Let's look at four things to watch for in this fantastic matchup between the NHL's greatest rivals.
The Canadiens Have Been Successful in Back-to-Back Games
The Canadiens will play the second game of a back-to-back on Wednesday night after losing 1-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a hard-fought game at the Consol Energy Center.
Montreal has an impressive 3-1-1 record in the final game of a back-to-back this season, and for the second time in 2013, they will play the Bruins on the road after losing to Pittsburgh in regulation.
Starting goaltender Carey Price played very well against the Penguins on Tuesday. He will be in net on Wednesday for his first start in Boston this season (per the team). In the two teams' first meeting of the year on February 6, Price was the losing goaltender in Boston's 2-1 comeback victory.
After playing a speedy, quick team like the Penguins, it will be interesting to see how much energy the Canadiens bring to the ice in Boston. The Bruins are coming off a full day of rest and have not lost at TD Garden since March 3, when the Canadiens beat them 5-4.
Bruins Must Keep Their Composure
Montreal does a good job of getting under its opponents' skin and drawing penalties that are created from frustration.
The intensity of the rivalry and the dislike the players on these teams have for each other usually results in a lot of pushing and shoving after the whistle.
The Bruins are prone to retaliating when the Canadiens instigate an altercation, and they cannot afford to take foolish penalties and allow the impressive Montreal power play (which ranks ninth in the NHL) to take control of the game.
Bruins head coach Claude Julien said at his Wednesday morning press conference,
Bottom line is, you’ve got to stay out of the penalty box. If you’re a physical team, you’ve got to be physical, but you can’t be stupid with the types of hits you’re giving, and do it cleanly.
If you do that then you’re sticking to your game plan because we expect our team to be a physical team every night that we play, whether it happens or not. But we expect our team to be disciplined.
Boston has taken 16 penalties and has given up 10 power-play opportunities to Montreal in the two games between these teams this season. Montreal has scored a power-play goal in each matchup and both of them opened the scoring.
If the Bruins don't allow their frustration or aggression to result in penalties, they will have a strong chance of winning because they are a better five-on-five team than the Canadiens.
Will Montreal's 1st-Period Success Continue?
The Canadiens are one of the best first-period teams in the NHL. Montreal's 16 wins when it opens the scoring is the second-highest total in the league. This team also has an 11-1-1 record when going into the first intermission with a lead.
In both games against the Bruins this season, the Canadiens have scored the first goal, and continuing this trend should be one of their main goals on Wednesday.
When the Canadiens build a lead, they take advantage of opposing teams' desperation and force a lot of turnovers, which creates scoring chances at the other end of the ice because of Montreal's speed and offensive skill.
For the Bruins to win this game, they need a strong start and cannot allow the Canadiens to finish the first period with a lead. Boston has not scored a first-period goal in its last four games. If that streak continues, it could be difficult for the Bruins to take two points from this contest.
Johnny Boychuk Could Miss His 3rd Straight Game
Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk skated with the Bruins on Wednesday morning, but the team has not made a final decision on his status for the Canadiens game.
"He’s going to be reevaluated today and, so far, he hasn’t been cleared, until he’s been reevaluated here," said Julien.
Boychuk has missed the last two games with a lower-body injury, which has resulted in Matt Bartkowski and Aaron Johnson occupying spots on the Boston blue line.
When he's out of the lineup, the Bruins really miss Boychuk's physical play, powerful shot from the point and ability to play against opposing teams' best forwards for 20-plus minutes each game.
Montreal ranks fifth in goals scored and has a great top-six forward group that includes a lot of offensive skill, speed and hockey intelligence.
If Boychuk does not play, the Bruins will need strong defensive performances from Dougie Hamilton and Andrew Ference, who have both struggled in their own end this season and rank first and third on the team in giveaways, respectively.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs in Boston. Nick has also covered the Bruins since the 2010-11 season. All quotes obtained firsthand or from Bruins media website.
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