The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens will link up in a second-round, Original Six playoff matchup beginning on Thursday night at TD Garden. Another chapter will be etched into the history books as the two sides get set to rekindle the unparalled hatred that’s fueled the NHL’s best rivalry for decades.
Both Boston and Montreal blew through their opening-round playoff opponents setting up this battle for the right to play in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bruins defeated the Detroit Red Wings, a fellow Original Six foe, in five games. The Canadiens swept the Tampa Bay Lightning.
These teams last faced-off in the playoffs in a memorable seven-game series back in 2011. Boston walked away winners and later went on to capture the Stanley Cup. This year’s installment will mark the 34th playoff meeting between the two sides. The Canadiens have won 24 0f the 33 previous playoff series.
Despite cruising into the postseason as Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Canadiens were one the few teams that achieved success opposite the Bruins during the regular season. They defeated the Bruins in three out four games, two of which occured in Boston.
Tuukka Rask stood tall in those regular season tilts, posting a 1-2-1 record and 1.94 GAA. Though it was Max Paccioretty who proved to be the difference maker in the season series. Paccioretty scored two goals, each of which were game-winners.
Each team possesses the ability to roll four lines, although the squads vastly differ in style.
The Bruins will once again look to their top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Jarome Iginla to push the pace offensively in a physical manner. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Reilly Smith comprise the second line. They’ll look to provide secondary scoring while playing lockdown defense. The third line, led by Loui Eriksson, will get after it on the forecheck and battle for pucks in deep. The fourth line is relied upon by Claude Julien to provide the team with a jolt of energy.
Paccioretty, David Desharnais and Thomas Vanek skate on Montreal’s top line. They, like Boston’s top trio, present problems for opposing defensemen with lethal scoring abilities. Brendan Gallagher anchors line two and will be called upon to provide lockdown defensive play. Their third line, led by the resurgent Rene Bourque, can score the puck with consistency as well. Dale Weise cannot be overlooked on the fourth line. He’s been known to mix things up every now and again.
The Bruins defense is known for its physicality, but they can also chip on the offensive end with regularity. They combined for four goals against the Red Wings. Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk and Kevan Miller pack the punch along the back end. Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski bolster the stifling unit and add a noteworthy offensive dynamic.
P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov anchor Montreal’s defensive corps. Alexei Emelin and Josh Gorges round out a respectably effective top four grouping. Subban projects to be the one guy who will be centered in Boston’s crosshairs. Though he and Markov will be relied upon to shutdown Boston’s top guns. Francis Bouillon and Mike Weaver comprise the third line pairing.
The individual matchup to watch will be Rask versus Carey Price. The two goaltenders are two of the best in the NHL and always rise to the occassion when matched up across from one another. Rask was named a Vezina Trophy finalist while Price is having the best season of his career from a statistical standpoint.
Lucic’s intensity, large stature, and relentless physical play could prove to be a nightmare for Montreal. He must remained focused in this series while steering clear of any antagonazing antics that may be directed toward him. If he can harnass the emotion that surrounds this great rivalry, Boston could become a runaway train. He’s the Bruins x-factor.
Vanek is Montreal’s x-factor. He was acquired for the sole purpose of aiding in beating the Bruins on the way to the Cup. In 55 games against the Bruins, Vanek has notched an astounding 32 goals. He’s had little postseason experience, though he could prove to be a nuisance for the Bruins if he develops just the slightest bit of confidence.
The opening two games of the series will be played in Boston. Game one is slated for Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. at TD Garden. It can be seen on NBCSN.