There really is nothing better in the NHL playoffs than two Original Six teams meeting, especially longtime foes like the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens. This will be the 33rd time the two will have faced each other in the postseason and the hate between the teams and fanbases has never waned.
Between the fight-filled game on Feb. 10, the Zdeno Chara/Max Pacioretty incident on March 8 and the 7-0 Bruins blowout on March 24, there are enough storylines in this series to make every shift interesting.
Montreal is looking to repeat last year's playoff run by going one step further and to the Stanley Cup Finals, while Boston would like nothing more than to quickly erase the end of its series with the Philadelphia Flyers and bounce back with a run of its own.
No. 3 Boston Bruins vs. No. 6 Montreal Canadiens
Thursday, April 14, Montreal at Boston, 7 p.m.
Saturday, April 16, Montreal at Boston, 7 p.m.
Monday, April 18, Boston at Montreal, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 21, Boston at Montreal, 7 p.m.
*Saturday, April 23, Montreal at Boston, 7 p.m.
*Monday, April 26, Boston at Montreal, TBD
*Tuesday, April 27, Montreal at Boston TBD
All times Eastern
Up front, the Bruins are able to mix grit with goal scoring. Milan Lucic produced a career year and led Boston in goals (30) and tied David Kejci in points with 62. Lucic, as always, brings toughness with his 121 PIMs, but the rough stuff can also be handled down the depth chart with the likes of Shawn Thornton (122 PIMs) and Gregory Campbell (93 PIMs).
Down the middle, Patrice Bergeron (35 assists) will create and Brad Marchand (21 goals) will bring a hard-nosed style of play as he finishes his rookie season. On the wings, Nathan Horton had one of his best all-around seasons. At age 43, Mark Recchi (48 points) continues to be a valuable player worth having in the lineup every night. Michael Ryder played well down the stretch, but can disappear at times.
Only the Los Angeles Kings scored fewer goals than the Canadiens among the 16 playoff teams. Just four Canadiens forwards scored more than 15 goals during the regular season.
Mike Cammalleri lit the world on fire during the playoffs last season scoring 13 goals in 19 games. Montreal could use that spark again as he's worked his way back from a shoulder injury. Tomas Plekanec scored 22 goals and led the Habs with 57 points, but has only scored three times since mid-February. He suffered a similar slump when he failed to score a goal against Pittsburgh or Philadelphia last playoffs. Scott Gomez (seven goals, 38 points) had the worst season of his career, so getting anything from him against Boston would be a bonus.
Brian Gionta led the Habs with 29 goals and will have to continue to do so in the playoffs if they're to have a chance against the Bruins.
The Bruins were second to the Vancouver Canucks in goals against with 189, thanks in part to terrific goaltending from Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask, but also a very strong blue line led by Zdeno Chara. The 6-foot-9 behemoth is their top two-way defenseman. Leading all Bruins defensemen with 14 goals and 44 points, Chara also delivered 153 hits, blocked 111 shots and had 32 takeaways.
After missing last postseason due to injury, Dennis Seidenberg's contributions (seven goals, team-highs with 161 hits and 174 blocked shots) will only boost the Bruins' hopes.
Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges are two noticeable absences on the Canadiens' blue line. But in their place has stepped P.K. Subban (14 goals) and and James Wisniewski (51 points between Habs/Isles). After being scratched numerous times early in the season, Subban emerged as one of Montreal's defensive leaders and a Calder Trophy candidate at times. He's paired with Hal Gill who was a big key in shutting down the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins a year ago.
Roman Hamrlik, the team's unsung hero, is possibly playing his last season with the Canadiens and at age 37 is still able to play 22 minutes a night, and led Montreal in blocked shots with 192. Along with Jaroslav Spacek, Hamrlik rounds out a solid top four in the back for the Habs.
What more is there to say about Tim Thomas' bounce-back year? From a Vezina Trophy to watching every playoff game a year ago, Thomas has once again put himself in position to win the award a second time in three seasons. Tuukka Rask's 27 starts ensures that Thomas will enter the playoffs fresh and not overworked. His .938 save percentage set an NHL record and his 2.00 goals against average was tops in the NHL.
While Carey Price's numbers could put him in the Vezina discussion, his play as the definitive Montreal No. 1 goaltender made him its MVP. Sitting behind Jaroslav Halak as the Habs made their run last year, Price took the reigns and had a career season with 38 wins, a 2.35 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. There's always pressure playing for the Canadiens and Price will be relied upon to carry the team much like Halak did last season.
Jon Bon Jovi might be a Jersey boy, but who says he can't inspire the masses from Montreal? (click on the photo to go to the video)
Trying to rebound from last season's collapse against the Flyers, Claude Julien might be under some pressure to win. Four straight playoff appearances with Boston have come up short as the Bruins have failed to get past the second round each time. In fact, Julien has yet to advance to the conference final as a head coach. Is eight wins mandatory before he gets put on the hot seat?
With inconsistency raging up and down his lineup, here Jacques Martin once again finds himself in the playoffs. In 16 seasons as a head coach, Martin has only missed the postseason four times, with three of them coming while he was with the Florida Panthers. He owes a debt of gratitude to Carey Price for carrying the Habs to the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. His conservative system and hot goaltender worked last year. Could it happen again? Or will key injuries and dogged production do the Habs in early?
The power-play success for the Bruins was spread out among 12 different goal scorers. Zdeno Chara and Michael Ryder led the way with eight power-play goals each and the addition of Tomas Kaberle from Toronto gave things a boost as he finished with three power-play assists since joining Boston.
Like their power play, the Bruins' penalty kill is middle of the road after being successful 82.6 percent of the time down a man. Brad Marchand (five SHGs) can be dangerous on the kill, while Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell and Patrice Bergeron are tops among forwards in shorthanded time on-ice.
For as much as the Canadiens struggled offensively at times, their power play never wavered. Finishing seventh in the NHL with a 19.7 percent success rate, Montreal was led by P.K. Subban's nine PPGs, tied for first among defensemen with Dennis Wideman of the Washington Capitals.
Montreal finished in the top 10 in penalty killing as well, taking care of 84.4 percent of power plays, good for seventh.
Curious if you'll have room for that replica Stanley Cup on your mantle? Or maybe that Tim Thomas Fathead on your wall? Why not break out your Boston Bruins measuring tape?
Of maybe you're wondering about the true heights of the Montreal Canadiens...
Montreal's run to the Eastern Conference final last season was a nice story, but can lightning strike twice? Probably not. The Habs enter their series with the Bruins needing a big effort from their top guns, something they'd didn't really get during the regular season. Like Jaroslav Halak a year ago, Montreal will have to rely on the heroics of Carey Price if it is to advance.
The Bruins have a mission this postseason and that's to make their collapse against the Flyers a distant memory. The motivation is there. GM Peter Chiarelli's additions of Tomas Kaberle, Chris Kelly and Nathan Horton have helped fill key needs that could help Boston with its own playoff run.
Prediction - Bruins in six