Did we expect anything less from Boston and Montreal?
The Bruins and Habs – one of the NHL’s longest standing rivalries – will head into a deciding Game 7 Wednesday night. Earlier this week, I asked which goalie would you rather have in a one-game showdown: Tuukka Rask or Carey Price? And while I picked Price in that scenario – by a slim margin - it’s one made in a vacuum, without taking into consideration any of the other factors that will play into tonight’s game. Which team would I take in Game 7, Boston or Montreal? I’m siding with Boston in this one.
Here are five reasons why:
1. Defense, defense, defense
I may take Montreal’s goalie in a winner-take-all showdown, but I’d take Boston’s team defense any day of the week. And that could make just as much of a difference here than Price or Rask. In this series, the Bruins have held the Canadiens to an average of 29.8 shots per game, which is about five fewer than Boston has thrown at Price’s net. Now, this difference has been shrinking since Game 1 and the shot scales have steadily been tilting in Montreal’s direction, but for one game on home ice, I have more confidence in the Bruins being able to shutdown the pesky Canadiens forwards.
The Bruins will set an NHL record tonight by appearing in a Game 7 for the seventh straight post-season. From when the streak started in 2008 until now, the Bruins have played in eight Game 7s, winning half of them, including the last time they played Montreal at home in one. And even the individual edge goes to the Bruins. Combined, the Bruins players have played in 89 Game 7s, compared to 38 for Canadiens players. Surprisingly, this will be Habs coach Michel Therrien’s first Game 7, while Bruins coach Claude Julien holds a 5-4 record. And as long as we’re talking about experience, the Bruins are used to the big games, having reached two Stanley Cup finals in three years, winning one of them.
3. More scorers
Odds are that Wednesday’s Game 7 will be very close, perhaps even an overtime thriller. So who has more players with the ability to put the puck in the net? Which team has the guys who you can most count on to score the timely goal? Again, the edge goes to Boston. Three times in this series alone the Bruins have clawed back from a third period deficit – and they won two of those games. Patrice Bergeron is Daniel Briere’s equal when it comes to career playoff overtime winners – but the Bruins also have David Krejci, who’s converted twice, plus the very dangerous Jarome Iginla, Zdeno Chara, Loui Eriksson and even Torey Krug. The Habs have Thomas Vanek, who’s been coming alive, plus P.K. Subban, who’s already scored once in OT this series. Brendan Gallagher? Rene Bourque? Do these guys match up to the Bruins offensive core? Not to these eyes. There’s a reason Boston’s offense was ranked third in the NHL this year and Montreal’s was 21st.
4. Home-ice advantage
This is what the teams play for all regular season, so I’m not about to gloss over this advantage for the best team left in the Eastern Conference. At 31-7-4, no team had more wins on home ice this season than the Bruins and they’re 4-2 in Boston this post-season. Sure, Montreal beat Boston twice in Bruins territory this regular season, but you know what? I don’t care. Regular season no longer matters. Oh, and then there's the small matter of Subban giving the Bruins bulletin board material. Look out.
5. Because Boston is the best the East has to offer
And finally, as I wrote back in March, in the East there is Boston, and then there is everyone else. The Bruins have the scoring, the depth, the defense and the goaltending: there is no significant weakness on this team. Meanwhile, you can point at some deficiency on any other Eastern roster and use it as a reason why they won’t make it to the Cup final. Boston has it all. And when you have it all, you pull through in big games like these. There is a reason why the Bruins have represented the East in two of the past three Cup finals – and tonight, when they win Game 7, we’ll once again see why.