The Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins renew a rivalry that seems to get more bitter and intense by the day tonight in Boston.
This will be the sixth and final regular-season meeting between the two teams with a hugely important two points on the line.
With Montreal trailing Boston by three points and the Bruins holding two games in hand, the Canadiens—with only eight more games to play—are quickly running out of race track to pass them in the standings.
Tonight's game will be the first between these two teams since Zdeno Chara knocked Habs forward Max Pacioretty out with a questionable hit.
Add to that the fact that Gary Bettman took both GMs aside—Boston's Peter Chiarelli and Montreal's Pierre Gauthier—at the General Manager's meetings and told them that he wants things to cool down, that Bruins forward Mark Recchi said yesterday on Boston radio that the Canadiens embellished the injury and the fact that Montreal has won four of the five games so far this season, this looks more like a power keg ready to blow than a hockey game!
The Bruins are in first place overall in the Northeast division with 90 points in 72 games, but Boston has been in a bit of a tailspin lately going 2-3-3 in their last eight.
A win tonight by the Bruins would likely end any hopes the Habs have of passing them in the standings.
The Habs have also struggled to find consistency lately playing .500 hockey over their last seven games. Montreal is three points behind the Bruins with 87 and two more games played.
With eight games left in their season, Montreal absolutely must win tonight in order to still have a shot at the division crown. A win by the Canadiens would put them into a tie for points with the idle Tampa Bay Lighting, losers of three straight.
So while it's possible that the division title may already be out of reach, the Habs can still climb in the standings and need these two points.
Pretty straightforward battle between two of the top Vezina candidates: Carey Price for Montreal and Tim Thomas for Boston.
Price will be getting his 66th start of the season despite tweaking his knee in practice prior to the game against the Sabres.
This will be Thomas' 51st start of the year.
Scoring and Special Teams
Both teams are known to employ extremely tight defensive schemes. That being said, the Bruins have a much better goals-for and against than the Canadiens while Montreal is better in the special teams department.
Boston has the fifth best goals-for at 3.0 per game (217 total goals), the fourth best goals-against at 2.4 per game (176 total), the 21st overall power play at 16.4 percent and the 17th best penalty kill at 81.8 percent.
Montreal, on the other hand, has the 22nd overall goals-for at 2.7 per game (200 total goals), the eighth best goals-against at 2.5 per game (187 total goals), the seventh best power play at 19.4 percent and the ninth best PK at 83.9 percent.
Roster Changes and Injuries
The perennially injured Habs look to be getting some reinforcements with Tomas Plekanec and Mathieu Darche both scheduled to return to the lineup.
Brent Sopel and Jeff Halpern have also been practicing with the team but are unlikely to be back in the lineup tonight. That leaves the Habs without six regulars as the walking wounded slowly get back into the lineup.
Boston is a relatively healthy team with only Marc Savard and Shane Hnidy out of the lineup.
Key to Victory
The Habs have won four out of the five games between these two teams this season by focusing on hockey and ignoring the Bruins physical thuggery. If Montreal wants to win tonight, they have to play to their strength, which is their considerable speed.
If the Canadiens focus on skating, they should draw penalties from the slower Boston defense, giving them ample power play opportunities to bury their opponent.
For Boston, it is pretty simple too. They need to get Montreal off their game and focused on the rough stuff and fisticuffs.
In the one game the Bruins won against Montreal this season, they played to their strength, which is a physical, bruising style. As the Habs got sucked into the physical aspect of the game—Boston is a physical mismatch for Montreal—the Bruins were able to beat them both on the scoreboard and with their fists.
With so much on the line tonight, this is bound to be an intense, physical battle with no quarter asked for or given.
Game time is 7:00 PM.
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/