BROSSARD, Que. – The pre-game hype has been all about fisticuffs, but the Montreal Canadiens are hoping that a hockey game breaks out when the big, bad Boston Bruins come to town.
The meeting of Northeast Division rivals on Tuesday night has been billed as a rematch after their fight-filled game in Boston on Feb. 9, in which the Bruins pounded the Canadiens with their fists and beat them 8-6 on the scoreboard in one of the wildest games in the NHL this season.
But with the races for playoff positions coming to a head, the Canadiens expect that both teams will be more concerned with securing the victory than with breaking noses.
Recent winning runs by both clubs have the Bruins two points behind Philadelphia for first place in the NHL Eastern Conference and the Canadiens only two points behind fifth-place Tampa Bay.
“We need these two points,” Montreal centre Scott Gomez said Monday. “Our goal is to have home ice in the playoffs.
“It’s Boston-Montreal. We’ll let you guys (reporters) hype this one up but I don’t think anyone is going home tonight and putting on Rocky One, Two or Three. We want to win the game.”
Recent days have seen frequent replays on television of the fights from their last encounter, most involving Bruins landing repeated blows to Canadiens’ heads during a mass brawl in the final minute.
It had Bruins fans crowing and Montreal supporters calling for general manager Pierre Gauthier to pick up some extra beef before the Feb. 28 trade deadline.
Instead, Gauthier got the experienced help on a defence he needed in Brent Sopel and kept his smaller than average club without an enforcer, even if Sopel is an upgrade in muscle from the injured player he replaced, Jaroslav Spacek.
The game that works for Montreal is quick puck movement, strong positional play, a dangerous power play and solid goaltending and that’s what they hope to impose on Boston rather than trying to answer with their fists.
It has mostly worked in recent history. The Canadiens went 5-1-0 against the Bruins last season and were 3-0-0 against them in 2010-11 before the Feb. 9 game.
On that night, defence veteran Hal Gill said it was more a question of poor defensive play than losing fights that cost them.
“They dictated that game,” said Gill. “They came out and were physical and we fell into that trap.
“We have to realize that our game is a speed game. It’s not that we can’t match them physically, but we have to know our strengths and play to them.”
The game had a dulling effect on both clubs. The Bruins lost their next three, although since then they have won seven in a row, including all six on a road trip, before losing 3-2 in overtime on Saturday to Pittsburgh.
The Bruins also made serious moves at the deadline, picking up defence veteran Tomas Kaberle and forwards Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley.
Montreal went 1-3-1 after the Boston debacle, but since then have won five of six, including the last four in a row. They will play their first game at home since sweeping a three-game road trip to Atlanta, Florida and Tampa Bay.
Gill has a rare hot hand. The six-foot-six stay-at-home defenceman went 99 games without a goal, but now has a goal in each of his last two games.
The streaky Andrei Kostitsyn is also on a run of three goals and five assists in his last six games.
But the key to all the winning of late has been goaltender Carey Price, who was named third star of the week in the NHL for allowing only thee goals in as many wins last week. His 31 wins this season is tied for the league lead with Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff and Detroit’s Jimmy Howard.
It is hard to imagine that there were doubts about Price going into the season after he lost the starting job to Jaroslav Halak late last season and watched most of the team’s run to the conference final from the bench.
He has been a model of consistency this season.
“I’ve had a lot of fun this year,” the 23-year-old said. “The guys have been awesome in this locker-room.
“It’s probably the most fun I’ve had playing hockey.”
Price picked up his seventh shutout in Florida, tying him with Boston’s Tim Thomas for second in the league behind the nine of New York Ranger Henrik Lundqvist.
In their last meeting, Price and Thomas squared off during a brawl, but no punches were landed as both avoided any risk of injury.
“I’m expecting a lot of hard play,” said Price. “There will probably be somerough stuff, but that was a crazy game last time. That doesn’t happen very often.
“Physical play is part of the game. Everyone who puts on skates knows what they’re getting into. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of hits thrown, a lot of words being spoken. It’s going to be good, hard-fought hockey.”
Sopel and winger Michael Cammalleri missed practice Monday for what Martin called “therapy days.” When asked if there was a danger either or both could sit out the game, he only said: “We’ll see how they are (Tuesday).”
Boston centre Patrice Bergeron missed the last game while attending to a personal matter but was back at practice Monday and is expected to play. Defenceman Andrew Ference (lower body) is out.