BROSSARD, Que. – Carey Price knows what to expect when the Montreal Canadiens play the Boston Bruins in the playoffs.
“Both rinks are going to be loud and probably obnoxious,” the Canadiens goaltender said Wednesday. “We’ve been in this situation before.”
The Canadiens and Bruins will face each other in the post-season for a record 34th time when their NHL Eastern Conference semifinal opens Thursday night in Boston, and this one promises to be as nasty and closely contested as ever.
As is the tradition, it pits a bigger, more physical Boston team against a Montreal side built on quickness and puck pressure.
The Bruins are favoured after finishing first overall in the NHL with 117 points, but the 100-point Canadiens won three of their four regular season meetings and have a history of dashing the Bruins’ dreams in the post-season.
Montreal is 24-9 against Boston in playoff series, including 18 in a row from 1946 to 1987, although the Bruins have won seven of the last 11, including the last two in 2009 and 2011.
“It’s a good rivalry,” said Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty. “We always have fun playing against them.
“They play a completely different kind of game than us.”
Montreal has a way of driving the Bruins crazy, as they stick to playing hockey and refuse to get involved in skirmishes. Key bruins like Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic have been put off their game by chasing after targets like P.K. Subban and Brendan Gallagher, who have been known to taunt opponents.
That’s why Pacioretty said a key for the Canadiens will be maintaining discipline.
“They’re a big team. They like to play really physical,” he said. “When we just worry about our game and don’t let the stuff after the whistle affect us, when we walk away from that, we’ve had good opportunities to win games against them.
“Obviously, they’re going to be smart too in the playoffs and won’t be taking as many penalties as in a regular game, but we have to focus on our game and not them.”
Both teams wrapped up the first round early and will be rested. Montreal swept the young Tampa Bay Lightning, while Boston needed five games to dispatch the Detroit Red Wings.
It may be in Boston’s favour that they are coming off a series against a team that plays a similar brand of hockey to Montreal.
“Much is said about their size and their speed and allegedly that’s what gives us problems,” Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli told the Bruins’ website this week. “I think that’s part of it.
“You have some teams you just don’t have success against sometimes. Having said that, that applied to Detroit, too, so you see what happens with that.”
The Bruins may be a better team than they were in 2011, when they needed Nathan Horton’s Game 7 overtime goal to defeat Montreal in the first round en route to their first Stanley Cup since 1972. Boston had come back after losing the opening two games at home.
The addition of Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton has given their defence much-needed mobility. And Krug’s ability to play the point has transformed their power play, which went 6-for-16 against Detroit.
Montreal’s power play has been struggling since late in the regular season, while its penalty killers weren’t sharp against Tampa Bay while allowing two goals on seven chances.
The Canadiens penalty kill should get a boost with the return of left-winger Travis Moen from a concussion. He is expected to replace rookie Michael Bournival on the fourth line with Daniel Briere and Dale Weise.
In goal, each team has an elite puck-stopper who brings baggage to the series.
Boston’s Tuukka Rask has only three regulation time wins in 15 career meetings with Montreal. The lanky Finn allowed only five goals in their four meetings this season, but had only one win and was pulled from one game after two first-period goals.
Price started only once against Boston and got the win, but the other games went to backup Peter Budaj who is 7-1-0 against the Bruins.
What’s lacking from the 26-year-old Price’s resume is taking the Canadiens on a long playoff run. He has a 13-17 career post-season record. But his stellar play while helping Canada to gold at the Sochi Olympics may be a sign that he has reached a new level.
“There’s a lot of similarities,” said Price when asked to compare the Olympics to the playoffs. “It’s a different goal, but it’s the same mindset.”
On defence, the Canadiens try to have either Subban or Andrei Markov, both accomplished puck movers, on the ice as much as possible. It appears the coach Michel Therrien will stick with a third pairing of Francis Bouillon and Mike Weaver, a small but experienced duo, rather than slotting the bigger but slower Douglas Murray.
The Bruins have the towering Chara eating up big minutes every game. They are missing Adam McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg to long-term injuries but haven’t skipped a beat on the back end.
Up front, both teams like to roll four lines.
Having four effective lines is an advantage for Boston in most series, but it shouldn’t be against Montreal, whose fourth unit centred by Briere produced two key goals in the first round.
Thereturn of Dan Paille from a suspected concussion gives the Bruins’ fourth line a needed dose of speed, however.
Montreal boosted its attack with the trade deadline acquisition of goal-scorer Thomas Vanek, who plays on the top line with Pacioretty and David Desharnais. It was held to three goals against Tampa Bay, but created a ton of chances.
Boston counters with David Krejci centring Lucic and Jarome Iginla, while each team has an ace two-way centre on its second line—Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec and Boston’s Patrice Bergeron.
If the two scoring surprises on Montreal’s third line, centre Lars Eller and left-winger Rene Bourque, keep producing it may give the Canadiens the advantage on attack for the series.
That will play out on the ice, while around them wars of words will rage between fans and some media of both cities as it has been over the decades.
This one should even have duelling anthem singers, with Boston’s tremolo-voiced, flamboyantly dressed Rene Rancourt against Montreal’s new-found diva Ginette Reno.
The Bruins openly talk of hatred when playing Montreal, although the Canadiens prefer gentler words.
“I don’t think hate is a good word,” said Price. “Competitive, maybe.”