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Rear Admiral's Bruins/Canadiens Preview

 

 

The Greatest Rivalry in Sports is back

For the 34th time in league history, the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens will square off in a Stanley Cup Playoffs series with the winner moving onto the Wales/East Final to play the winner of Pens/Rags for the right to go to the Cup. Tonight’s game will be the 171st time the two have met in a post-season game.

In the storied, intertwined history of the two clubs, the often-dynastic Habs won 24 of the 33 series played between them. They beat the Bruins in 17 straight series from ’46-’87 until the Neely/Bourque/Lemelin squad of 1987-88 finally put an end to what was then-referred to as “the jinx” (and man, did it feel real). Including that tide-turning year, Boston has taken seven out of 11 from Montreal, most recently in their ’11 Cup run when they won four out of five (three on Candien ice) after falling down 0-2.

Even so, the mere idea of a Boston vs. Montreal showdown in the playoffs induces a Pavlovian pit in the gut of Bs fans ranging from old-school folks who saw the Beatles at the old Garden to young kids who saw Bieber (lip-sync) at the new Garden. It’s a combination of excitement, anxiety, a lot of bad nostalgia, some good nostalgia, anticipation, and fear of losing to your most hated rival. Younger fans have been treated to five series so far this century so they’ve experienced what Bruins/Canadiens is all about; older fans still carry scars from the ‘70s (and before that) and just hearing ‘Canadiens’ causes a twitch somewhere.

I’d venture to say no other out-of-town team provokes the visceral reaction of Boston fans quite like the Montreal Canadiens do (yes, even more than the Yankees, who didn’t have a playoff history with the Sox until about 15 years ago). And I, for one, can’t wait til this shit starts. Because nothing beats Bs/Habs.

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How’d We Get Here?

The Canadiens got to the second round by dispatching the Tampa Bay Lightning in about the time it takes for lightning to strike and were easily the first team to move onto the second round. But because of just how awful Tampa was (likely the worst of the lot), it’s tough to say just how good the Habs looked. Steven Stamkos said after the series just how way off he still is from his broken leg. Anders Lindback slapped up a Hockeytown-esque .881 SP and 3.91 GAA in losing three of the four games.

The Bs rather easily dispatched of the Red Wings in five games, allowing them to get some rest and bring at least one guy (Dan Paille) back into the line-up. Even Wings coach Mike Babcock said that his team wasn’t “a tough out” at all. Youth, injuries, and less than playoff-caliber netminding combined to do them in. Oh, and the punishing, wear-you-down style of the Bruins that just forced its will on them. They helped, too.

The Series

Like the Bruins, Montreal has four balanced lines and a world-class goalie. Their D, led by Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban is solid but top-heavy with a bottom pair that can be exposed.They are a good team, no doubt. But the Bruins are simply better. And if the Bs just play their game, they will win the series. Here’s what the Bs need to do/not do…

*Most importantly, the Bruins need to stay extremely disciplined, especially when they’re up north (“Montreal typical”). No retaliatory shit, no stupid shit. Because the quick and talented Habs will make them pay. Of course penalties are going to happen, just don’t take stupid ones. Tune out P.K. and don’t take his bait. Unless you have a five-goal lead.

*Maintain the same defensive layers and team D structure that worked so well against Detroit. The defensive side of hockey is often overshadowed because people understandably love goals and scoring more than seeing a guy get blanketed. But like any sport, it’s as important as offense. It’s also the cornerstone of how their Bs conduct on-ice business which is why they’re a top team. They’ll need to be on their toes against the smaller, quicker Habs. But even when they do fuck up, they still have Tuukka Rask covering their asses.

*Continue to put up exemplary special teams numbers. That’s easier said than done because each series is vastly different. Scoring at a 37.5% clip (like they did vs. Detroit with six goals in 16 chances) is probably unlikely against the Habs. But even a drop-off of 15% would still be a productive PP. They gave up just two goals in 20 chances in the first round, good for a 90% penalty kill. In short, the Bs just need to do what they did all year—-continue to execute.

*Brad Marchand needs to have his head in the right place. The Bs are going to need him to be productive this series because he certainly wasn’t vs. Detroit (no points, -1, four penalties). Yeah, he needs to be a pain in the ass to be effective but not so much of one that he takes stupid penalties or inadvertently fires up the other team instead of his. It’s a very fine line. But because there was no real hate with the Wings, he couldn’t get to that level he needs to be at to be effective. However, he’ll have no such problem with the Canadiens and Subban—-he just needs to harness it. Oh, and cut the shit with the diving, Brad. You’re the last guy on the ice that’s going to get the benefit of the doubt from the refs. (Late note: he didn’t skate this morning which Claude said was his option but there’s reasonable suspicion that the winger is dinged up).

*More Loui. Eriksson was one of the Bs’ best forwards in the first round and one of their best players down the stretch run. He’s definitely found his stride and is playing some great hockey. Though I like his chemistry with fellow Swede Carl Soderberg, who was also great vs. Detroit despite just one assist, Loui has shown he can get plugged in anywhere in the top six and have an impact. If the second line is struggling to score, injecting him will help and you don’t lose any D because he’s a good two-way player. He has versatility, utilize it.

*The top line needs to consistently play like a top line. Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Jarome Iginla combined for for five goals and five assists against the Wings. Krejci only had two helpers so I’d expect more from the NHL’s leading playoff scorer in two of the last three years this round. But if the trio can establish a good forecheck and/or cycle, they can overwhelm the opposition with their brawn and smarts. It’s gonna be interesting to see who Michel Therrien puts out against this line while.

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Regardless of the era or year or status of the team, the Canadiens always manage to dial it up a notch when playing the Bruins. That’s not going to change this year. The Habs are going to give everything they got and certainly think they can win this series. Because they can if the Bs shit the bed. Here’s what Montreal needs to steal the series…

*Absolute top-shelf play from Carey Price. Against Tampa, he had a respectable 2.33 GAA but his .904 SP (in four games) is second worst among remaining playoff goalies. He’ll need to improve it considerably if his team is going to have a chance. So it’ll be need to be much higher than his playoff career save percentage of .905. But it’s worth noting he had a .934 and 2.11 against the Bs in their classic first round series back in 2011. Again, that whole ‘extra notch’ thing. He needs to be Montreal’s best player.

*For the Bruins to take the ample chum that the Habs will be offering and kill them on the power play. If they can get a guy like Lucic or Marchand chasing somebody around instead of concentrating on his game, that’s a win for the Habs. And they’ll do and say whatever is necessary to get the Bruins’ heads out of the game.

*Have Thomas Vanek wear his old Buffalo jersey underneath his Canadiens one. Back when he was with the Sabres, Vanek (along with Habs fourth-liner Daniel Briere) feasted on the Bruins so it’s assumed he’ll continue on with that trend.

*Continued great play from Brendan Gallagher. The Habs’ talented spitfire plays a fearless brand of hockey and can also get under the skin of opponents.

*Neutralize the Krejci line. Easier said than done but essential to winning.

The Pick

The Bruins are too battle-hardened, too mentally toughened, and just plain too good to lose this series. Bruins in six.

The Rest

Hank over Fleury, Rags’ D keeps Sid & Geno in check. Rangers in six. Jon Quick drinks Anaheim’s milkshake in another goalie mismatch. No second ring for Teemu or third round for Bruce Boudreau. Kings in six. Chief and Big Cat have perma-grins right now thanks to Minnesota’s stunning Game 7 OT win to knock out the only team that was making them shit their pants—-the goalie-pullin’ Avs. Instead of the dynamic ‘O’ of Denver and a Vezina finalist, the Blackhawks may well be facing Ilya Bryzgalov to reach the Campbell/West finals (depending on the health of Darcy Kuemper). Unreal. Hawks just too much. Blackhawks in five.

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