The series: #3 Boston Bruins (46-25-11, 103 pts) vs. Montreal Canadiens (44-30-8, 96 pts)
Regular season: Montreal 4-2, with the Canadiens outscoring the Bruins 20-14. Although the Habs won on the scoresheet, the Bruins won in the unofficial category of good ol’ time goonery. Which leads us to…
History: Hmmm, this is the space where I could stir my imaginary pot and fake some kind of unbridled hatred. But who are we kidding, there’s no rivalry between these two Original Six teams.
Sure, there was that time when Max Pacioretty kind of, sort of unintentionally taunted Zdeno Chara after scoring the overtime winner back on Jan. 8. And that possibly played a role in a donnybrook one month later in which the two teams combined for 12 fighting majors and 183 penalty minutes…
Depending on what sweater you wear to bed, that fight night and Pacioretty’s alleged taunting may or may not have led to his head hitting a stanchion after a hit from Chara. This is exactly what it looked and sounded like too…
But that’s all peaceful and calm water under a bridge now, right? Along with the other 87 years of history and 32 playoff meetings, and all the times the Habs have left bloody imprints on couches around Boston.
The case for Montreal: Last year, the Habs rode the goaltending of Jaroslav Halak to two major upsets, and a surprise appearance in the Eastern Conference Final. Carey Price’s brilliance this year has shown he’s capable of a similar performance, but there’s just one problem. Jose Theodore and Semyon Varlamov presented only a minor obstacle for Halak in the first round last year, but Price has to outduel Tim Thomas, the best goalie in the league.
Price will clearly need to be the goalie who posted a career-high eight shutouts this season. But Montreal’s hope of advancing past their long-held rivals comes down to winning the battle of size vs. speed, and I’m sure this is the first place you’ve read such original analysis.
The speed of forwards like Brian Gionta, Tomas Plekanec, and David Desharnais will be crucial, and will force Boston’s larger defenceman to cover space quickly. The resulting open gaps could lead to scoring chances, and generate power plays for the league’s seventh-best unit (19.7 conversion percentage).
The case for Boston: Sheer scoring depth gives Boston a tremendous advantage, especially given the Habs’ dismal offensive spell in late March that had cop cars heavily guarded around Montreal. Over a string of scoring mediocrity that lasted five games to close out the month, Montreal was shutout three straight times, and scored only five goals.
Montreal didn’t have a 30-goal scorer–Gionta finished just shy with 29–and with Pacioretty out, the secondary scoring beyond Gionta, Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn is inconsistent at best, a major factor that contributed to the Habs finishing 23rd in goals. Michael Cammalleri hopes to maintain the momentum he gained after scoring three goals and six points to finish off the season, but he’s also struggled through injuries and ineffectiveness. Prior to that streak to finish off the year, Cammalleri had only three goals over 18 games.
Meanwhile, Milan Lucic combines his hatred for the Habs with a re-acquired scoring touch that led the team with 30 goals. But it’s the secondary scoring from recently acquired forwards Rich Peverly and Chris Kelly, and former Hab Michael Ryder that bolsters Boston’s firepower. Boston had 13 forwards who finished the year with double digits in the scoring column, compared to Montreal’s eight.
- 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio: Boston, 0.95 (19th); Montreal, 0.90 (22nd)
- PP: Boston, 16.2% (20th); Montreal, 19.7% (7th)
- PK: Boston, 82.6% (16th); Montreal, 84.4% (7th)
- Goal differential/game: Boston, +0.62; Montreal, +0.09
Key matchup: Towering defenceman Hal Gill was vital in the effort to shut down or at least minimizing the impact of Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby last spring. This time his nemesis won’t be as skilled with his hands, but he’ll match Gill’s girth. He goes by the name of Lucic, and the battle in front of the Canadiens’ crease between Gill and Lucic will feature two combatants weighing a combined 461 pounds.
Prediction: Even if you hate the Canadiens, seeing them advance at least one round in the playoffs is good for hockey. Every story needs a villain, and during the spring the hatred spewed on one of the league’s most popular teams rivals only the venom reserved for the Leafs. Or at least I think it does; seven years is a long time, and I forget what the parades down Younge Street were like.
Unfortunately, the Bruins pack the same powerful physical punch the Flyers used to oust the Habs last May. Throw in Montreal’s recent scoring struggles, and size will beat speed in six games.
Well, there you go, there’s no need to watch this series now, and we can put that French language election debate back into its original time slot. Our predictions are always right.