2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Bruins/Canadiens Keys to Victory
With the first night of NHL Playoff games in the books our attention will be on a number of games tonight as the 2011 NHL Playoffs continue to evolve.
The most anticipated matchup of the night should be the Boston Bruins battle with the Montreal Canadiens, as it already encompasses a number of juicy regular season story lines and one of the most storied rivalries in all of hockey.
Let’s face it folks, the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens have a hate on for each other like few other rivalries, partially based on an early season brawl between the two sides and of course that “little” incident involving Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara and Montreal forward Max Pacioretty.
History tells us that Montreal holds a 24-8 advantage in playoff series against the Bruins, but with playoff hockey, anything is possible.
The Habs won the season series between the two clubs, taking four of six matches. That said; the last time these two clubs met the Bruins pasted the Canadiens by a final score of 7-0, which, for many people, serves as the most important stat.
The Canadiens will enter the playoffs without the services of a number of key players, including defensemen Andrei Markov and Josh Georges. The Habs will also be without the services of Max Pacioretty and Jeff Halpren.
History and hate aside, this series is likely to come down to a number of factors, each of which as important as the next.
Let’s take a look at the Three keys to victory for the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.
Bruins: Get to Carey Price Early and Often
No question, with the Habs hurting on defense, it appears as if Habs netminder Carey Price will have to emerge as the Canadiens MVP in this series if they are going to have any chance of beating the Bruins.
Comparatively, the Bruins will look to get traffic in front of the Canadiens net, with an emphasis on trying to get into Price’s head.
Heading into this series, Price brings a 5-11 career Playoff record to go along with a lofty 3.17 goals against average and a less than stellar .894 save percentage. The Canadiens will be banking on Price putting up numbers that are closer to his 2010-11 regular season, which saw the 23-year old netminder put up a spectacular 38-28-6 record to go along with his sparkling 2.45 GAA and .923 save percentage.
Should the Bruins be able to get off to a fast start, we may see the Price of old- sloppy, emotional and unfocused.
Bruins: Selective Use of Force
The Bruins will look to use their size and strength to their advantage against the undersized Canadiens.
Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara will likely be the main cogs in this respect, but that does not mean they will not get a physical presence from several other players, including the likes of Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton and Adam McQuaid, each of whom can agitate and lay a hit out with the best of them.
The Canadiens feature a top-three that includes 5’9”, 182 pound forward Mike Cammalleri, 5’11”, 198 pound Tomas Plekanec and 5’7”, 173 pound Brian Gionta, which suggests they may be overmatched and out muscled against the Bruising Bruins.
Montreal effectively used their speed to their advantage in last years playoffs, the Bruins will have to impose their physical prowess if they plan on slowing them down.
Bruins: Contain P.K. Subban
Emotion can go a long way in the playoffs. For this reason, the Bruins would be smart to leave Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban alone, opting instead to turn the other cheek when/if the young rookie tries to get the Bruins off-balance.
No question, Subban can antagonize with the best of them, but should the Bruins turn the other cheek they may be able to capitalize on some very valuable power play time, an area the Bruins have difficulty with.
Montreal’s power play was amongst the NHL’s best this season, clipping along at just under a 20 percent success rate. If the Bruins do opt to retaliate they may find themselves in a penalty kill situation, which may not bode well for Boston.
The Bruins (who had the 16th best penalty kill this season) do not want to let special teams decide this
series, keeping a level head against the likes of Subban and others will be key to avoiding just that.
Canadiens: Capitalize On The Power Play
Given the fact that the Boston Bruins often play a brand of reckless hockey, the Montreal Canadiens should see a number of power play opportunities. The Canadiens will look to use their power play opportunities to their full advantage; in fact, their power play (which was ranked seventh overall this season) could be enough to win the Canadiens a game or two.
Keep in mind, the Bruins are no longer an inferior offensive team. The Bruins owned the fifth best offense in the regular season, while the Canadiens ranked 21st overall.
With Tim Thomas and his 2.00 goals against average squarely facing the Canadiens in the face, the Habs will have to take advantage of their power play opportunities as it appears as if Montreal will really struggle to score five-on-five against the Bruins.
The Canadiens have plenty of weapons on the power play, including P.K. Subban with nine goals on the season, followed by James Wisniewski, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta, each with seven power play goals on the season.
One of these players will have to step up on the power play if the Habs have any chance of beating the Bruins.
Canadiens: Keep Your Emotions in Check
Should the Montreal Canadiens decide to engage the Boston Bruins in a physical contest they will likely lose this series in four games. The Bruins are too big, too physical and all too happy to go toe-to-toe with Montreal in the physical department, so the Canadiens will have to keep themselves in check.
There will be a ton of emotion in this series, especially when it shifts to Montreal. The Habs would be smart to continually turn the other cheek, take advantage of their power play opportunities and focus on using their speed and skill to defeat the Bruins.
P.K. Subban can be a bit of a lose cannon out on the ice. Canadiens coach Jacques Martin would be smart to pull him back should he start running around.
Bottom line; the Habs need to let the sleeping giant that is the Bruins sleep. Trying to turn this series into a physical/vengeful series would be suicide.
Montreal netminder Carey Price will also have to keep his emotions in check. As good as he was in the regular season he has a reputation for losing focus in the playoffs, which has seen his hometown crowd turn against him in the past.
With the series already pegged to have plenty of emotion and venom in it, Price cannot lose his focus or the series will be over very quickly.
Canadiens: Shut Down the Bruins First Line
The Boston Bruins are deep up front, but a huge portion of their offense comes from their first line of Milan Lucic (LW), David Krejci (C) and Nathan Horton (RW).
Lucic led the Bruins in goal scoring this season with 30, while tying Krejci for points with 62. Horton had a decent season, posting 26 goals and 53 points. The trio emerged from the regular season a combined plus +80, which, when combined with there goal scoring prowess, suggests that they are as dominant a line as any in the entire NHL.
If you want to beat the Bruins you have to shut down their first line; it’s really that simple.
With the Bruins opening the series on home ice they should come out extremely amped. While they will have to be careful to keep their emotions in check every indication points to the Bruins having a successful opening game.
The Bruins went 6-3-1 down the stretch with very little help from their power play, which has been brutal of late.
Bruins netminder Tim Thomas is having a season for the ages. Call me stupid, but I just cannot see Thomas having a meltdown in this game, or this series.
The Canadiens will look to play a similar style of play that brought them success in the 2009-10 Stanley Cup Playoffs, which led to a couple of upsets, including wins against the Washington capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Attention to detail, tremendous goaltending from Carey Price and a firm commitment to defense and a successful power play are the Canadiens only hope of winning this series.
Former Montreal Canadien Jaroslav Halak was last years playoff hero for the Habs on the back end stealing a number of games; with Mike Cammalleri equally good up front, scoring 13 goals in 19 playoff games.
Cammalleri will have to be equally good, while Price will need to mirror the success of Halak from a year ago.
In the end, I see the Bruins pulling off a game one victory.
Prediction: Take the Bruins.