Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins Game 1: Keys for Each Team
The NHL confirmed Tuesday night that the Montreal Canadiens will venture to the TD Garden this Thursday to commence the Atlantic Division final against the Boston Bruins. The venue and the convening teams will thus end a five-day wait that began last Saturday afternoon when the Bruins disposed of the Detroit Red Wings.
The time-honored rivals combined to abolish their respective first-round adversaries in an efficient nine games. For the Habs, more than a week removed from sweeping Tampa Bay, the resultant respite has lasted long enough to yield an unpredictable start to the next series.
Has that lengthy gap between games bought them time to refuel, or will they pay a price for waiting too long? The answer could unveil a key aspect of the matchup as the series takes shape.
Speaking of prices, there is a closer parallel in this matchup with Boston’s Tuukka Rask and Montreal’s Carey Price in the contesting creases. While Price’s first-round numbers (.904 save percentage and 2.33 goals-against average) are hardly radiant, one has to think there is some untapped big-game aptitude in him.
Price has ceded the crease to Peter Budaj for every Bruins encounter since a 32-save, 2-1 win on Dec. 5. But in the interim, he and Rask alike delivered stellar Olympic performances, helping Canada to gold and Finland to bronze, respectively.
Both backstops need to be ready to face potential droves of offense, assuming those forward lines can pierce each layer of opposing defense.
The next six slides shall expand upon each of these points and more as we explore three keys for each squad ahead of Game 1.
Key for Montreal: Sharpness from Head to Skate
Montreal’s coaching staff built a simulated game day around a scrimmage Monday, six nights after eliminating the Lightning. While that is better than nothing, it lacked the basic amenities of an authentic adversary and rabid audience on hand.
Come what may, mental preparation will be crucial as the Habs snap their nine-day hiatus from extramural engagement. Boston’s five-day break will have been barely more than half as long and is conducive to a better balance between rest and rust.
The Canadiens cannot afford to let any sense of physical rust creep into their minds. Doing so would risk feeding free momentum to the Bruins and the TD Garden crowd in the tone-setting segments.
Key For Boston: Building Up The Bottom 6
Swedish countrymen and third-line associates Loui Eriksson and Carl Soderberg each began to elevate their impact as the first round progressed. Soderberg is earning his stripes as a center, while Eriksson should have a foundation of self-assurance after burying his first playoff goal as a Bruin in Game 5.
No time like Thursday’s second-round series opener for the two to build on that foundation together. They cannot only catch personal momentum while it is still relatively hot and assume they have the upper hand on their Canadiens counterparts.
Bruins reporter Joe Haggerty of csnne.com observed the following in a Monday post:
The Montreal third line of Rene Bourque, Brian Gionta and Lars Eller was actually the team’s most dangerous against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and gives the Canadiens the same kind of lineup balance that Boston relies upon in their rougher matches.
Assuming they see regular head-to-head action, it will be on Soderberg to spearhead the Bruins to an upper hand against the Bourque-Eller-Gionta troika on both sides of the puck.
In other depth and chemistry news, Boston could be reworking Daniel Paille into the equation after a two-and-a-half-week absence. The team’s official website reported Tuesday that while head coach Claude Julien has yet to make any commitments, the fourth-line winger has been cleared to compete.
If Paille does dress Thursday, he figures to collaborate with Merlot Line colleagues Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton. If he is fresh-legged more than frostbitten from inactivity, his speed and seasoning will be welcome additives.
Key for Montreal: Meddling with Marchand
One of the few negatives, if not the only blight, in Boston’s first-round triumph was Brad Marchand. In addition to shortcomings in the scoring department, the leaned-on winger needlessly let adversaries annoy him to a detrimental degree as late as the final period of the series.
The start of this series five nights later marks his chance to skate on a resurfaced slate. As such, it is also a limited time offer for the Canadiens to, as it were, pester the pest.
If they can get the better of Marchand in the discipline department early, they could punch a key hole in the Bruins’ ecosystem for subsequent stages in the series.
That may mean keeping the second-line winger off the scoreboard, nudging him off the ice on multiple occasions or both. Either way, Game 1 is the most opportune time to start spinning a vicious cycle against one of Boston’s best assets.
Key For Boston: Pillaging Price
The presumptive Rask-Price goaltending card may be one of, if not the, very last first-class matchup we see in that position in this year's playoffs. In turn, inflicting a dent of doubt could be a decisive development for both offenses.
For the Bruins, this means using size and aggression to congest Price’s porch in all situations. That strategy ranges from forwards like Milan Lucic cutting to the cusp of the crease to Zdeno Chara posing a power-play screen.
Besides the aforementioned supplementary scorers, prime suspects such as the Jarome Iginla-David Krejci-Lucic troika should have no shortage of competitive zeal.
Krejci and his fellow top-sixer, Marchand, both ought to be craving a fresh start in the form of a fresh series after a goal-less first round apiece. They and their linemates can channel that urge productively by buzzing the biscuit around the dirty areas and hot spots.
Anything that sabotages Price’s endeavor to make smooth saves and summon whistles would be a start. And it need not necessarily translate to a multi-goal outburst in Game 1. It will have its effect as long as the bushel of biscuits is enough to create a win and an opposing netminder with less conviction than his counterpart.
Key For Montreal: Raiding Rask
Because stable goaltending will be equally critical for each party, so will sniffing out seams to plug in the opposing cage. Anything that might give the masked man behind you a mental or psychological edge.
Again, this does not mean charging up a glut of goals or even necessarily a profusion of shots. The Montreal strikers must start the series by aiming to exploit Boston’s youthful depth defense and gradually whittle away at Rask’s confidence.
That endeavor should start from the top onward with Thomas Vanek. The March 5 trade-deadline acquisition has had two months to assimilate into the Canadiens’ fabric and two twirls in the Boston-Montreal rivalry.
After a relatively quiet month of April saw him tune the mesh once in 10 games, the recent hiatus might be beneficial for Vanek. The first of May would be an ideal time for him to percolate a second wind.
As his career splits on Hockey Reference remind everyone, Vanek has an unmatched 30 career goals and 62 points at Boston’s expense. Now is the time for him to embrace the rivalry, continue his consistent big-game Bruin hunt and fulfill Montreal’s investment in him.
And as alluded in a previous slide, the Habs have the depth they need to keep Boston’s blueliners and backstop on alert.
It will be on the aforementioned Bourque-Eller-Gionta unit and the rest of the top nine to set an early tone. The secondary strikers, in particular, figure to see the bulk of the action against the younger sectors of the Bruins defense.
On that note...
Key For Boston: Preserved Poise For The Blue-Line Boys
Young defensemen Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller should all be pleased with their performances in helping to repress the Red Wings. That pleasure, however, must translate to a levelheaded understanding that the challenges will escalate with every playoff round.
No matter how mild, overconfidence and a shortage of confidence alike will pose a danger for the less experienced. If they find and grip the happy medium, they will have better odds of warding those elements off.
That starts with an understanding that this will be a new experience for all four of the players in question. They have each tasted Stanley Cup playoff ice and combated the Canadiens before, but they have yet to do both simultaneously.
The Habs will come bearing a more formidable and seasoned strike force than Detroit. They will come with players who have a greater quantity of acquired animosity by virtue of experiencing this rivalry in the regular season and postseason.
With that said, the first- and second-year Bruins blueliners should know their own organization well enough to anticipate and bring the requisite intensity. They need to listen to their elders and coaches ahead of Thursday’s faceoff and not waste any seconds or skip any steps as they acclimate to the action.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com.