Canadiens vs. Bruins: Preview and Prediction for NHL Playoffs 2014 Matchup
It's a dream matchup in the second round: two Original Six NHL teams going at it for the Atlantic Division title, in their 34th playoff meeting in a storied history.
The Canadiens have the all-time edge, but it's the Bruins who have won seven of their last 11 battles, including the last two in 2009 and 2011.
Read on for key storylines and everything else fans of either team need to know before the series starts.
Schedule and TV Info
The Presidents' Trophy winners came into the playoffs as a Stanley Cup favorite and proved too much for the Detroit Red Wings in the first round, winning four straight games after dropping the opening contest 1-0 at home. They finished the regular season with the league's best goal differential—twice as high as the next best in the Eastern Conference—and an eight-point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Habs made short work of their first-round opponent after a quietly strong 100-point regular season saw them finish one point shy of the Tampa Bay Lightning and in the third spot in the Atlantic Division after adding Thomas Vanek at the trade deadline. They swept the Bolts by scoring 16 times over the four games, allowing 10 against.
Does size matter?
The Canadiens are smaller but certainly don't lack tenacity in their game with the likes of Brandon Prust and Brendan Gallagher patrolling the wings. Still, the Bruins play a heavy game and will try to wear down the Canadiens over the best-of-seven series.
Whether or not the Canadiens can withstand the punishment—or even dish out some of their own—could go a long way in prolonging the series or tipping the scales in their favor.
Despite the fact that the Bruins finished atop the league standings, the Canadiens won three out of four of their meetings during the regular season. They won 2-1 behind Carey Price's goaltending in December and earned 4-1 and 2-1 shootout victories in January and March with backup Peter Budaj tending the twine. Their only loss was a 4-1 decision in March, again with Budaj in net.
It will be interesting to see if the same success can be found in the postseason.
Reinforcements could be coming
For a team that will need to discover ways to beat one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, the Canadiens could really use some good news on the health of Alex Galchenyuk. Well, the team announced on its home page that the 20-year-old talent, who has been out with a lower-body injury since late in the regular season, may be able to return in the second round, although he's not skating yet.
Travis Moen is cleared for contact and is practising on the fourth line, according to TSN Radio's Jessica Rusnak. The Bruins' Daniel Paille skated Saturday, according to Rich Garvin of the Telegram & Gazette, and could also boost Boston's fourth-line production.
Players to Watch
In the four games the Habs and Bruins played this season, Pacioretty scored twice—both game-winning goals. He also happened to make his first playoff goal count, eliminating the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round with a series-clinching power-play goal in the final minute of Game 4.
The Bruins bruiser had a stellar first round against the Detroit Red Wings, scoring three goals and an assist while pacing his team with 14 shots through the five games played. He also loves to be physical and vocal against the Canadiens—on and off the ice.
Carey Price didn't get enough votes to make the Vezina Trophy list of finalists, but he was good enough to be mentioned right up there with the rest of them this season. He had the third-best save percentage at .927, notched the second-most shutouts with six and earned an Olympic gold medal in February to boot.
If anyone can match what Tuukka Rask provides between the pipes, it's Price. And if he struggles or is injured, the team must be confident in backup Peter Budaj, who was 2-1 against the Bruins in the regular season.
The Vezina Trophy front-runner picked up in the playoffs where he left off in the regular season. His .961 save percentage leads the NHL through the first round, just as his .930 mark led all starters in the regular season. Like Price, Rask was a strong performer in the Sochi Games, where he put together a .938 save percentage while earning the bronze medal with Team Finland.
The Bruins were dynamite on the man advantage in the first round of the playoffs, netting six power-play goals on 16 opportunities for a 37.5 percent success rate. Penalty killing was a weak point for the Canadiens in the opening round. They killed off just 71.4 percent of their penalties—the second-worst rate in the playoffs so far.
On the other side of the coin, the Bruins were spectacular at keeping the Detroit Red Wings limited while short-handed, clicking at a 90 percent kill rate. The Habs scored just two power-play goals against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Montreal Will Win If They Spread Out the Scoring
The Canadiens received some significant scoring contributions throughout the season, boosted by the addition of Thomas Vanek at the trade deadline.
But 39-goal scorer Max Pacioretty was relied on too heavily, with only Tomas Plekanec reaching 20 goals on the season to support the Habs' scoring star.
Against the well-rounded Bruins, the Canadiens need to match the depth scoring of their opponents, including from the blue line.
The good news for the Canadiens is they got at least a point from 16 different players and goals from 10 during just four games in the first round.
Boston Will Win If It Keeps Its Cool
There's no doubting the Bruins have a stronger team on paper. They roll four lines regularly, and all can contribute on the score sheet.
However, they do have a tendency to get overly emotional at times. Brad Marchand walks a fine line between getting under the other team's skin and getting into trouble with referees. Despite the Canadiens' failures on the power play in the playoffs so far, the Bruins don't want to give them the opportunity to turn things around.
Throw the regular-season record out the window here. The Canadiens should be confident knowing they won three of four this year. However, the Bruins could wear down the Canadiens over time in what should be a very physical and emotional series. It will not be an easy victory for the Presidents' Trophy winners.
Prediction: Boston in seven games
Unless otherwise noted, stats are courtesy of NHL.com.
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