Bruins-Canadiens? Bring it on

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BOSTON -- If the hockey gods are kind, they would make sure the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens meet during the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.

It's a possible scenario, and that's why the last two regular-season games between these teams have been playoff-like contests. Both teams are trying to set the tone for that potential matchup, and Monday's game was another indication of the type of playoff series it would be, as the Canadiens posted a 2-1 shootout win at TD Garden to snap Boston's 12-game winning streak.

"Obviously, you don't want to lose the way that you do in shootouts, especially getting all the chances that we did during the third period, but with 10 games left, now you've got to expect every game to be like that," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "Look at our last stretch of eight games in 13 days. We were able to get 15 out of 16 points, so that's pretty good. Unfortunately, the winning streak comes to an end tonight, but we've got to look forward to the next one."

Over the weekend, the Canadiens were able to watch Boston's game against the Phoenix Coyotes and were hoping the Bruins kept their winning streak intact, because Montreal wanted to be the team that snapped its rival's string of success. The Canadiens took early advantage of some undisciplined play by the Bruins en route to victory.

"It's a big win for us, for sure," the Canadiens' Brian Gionta said. "By no means was it a perfect game, but it showed a lot of character sticking with it and battling through. That first period, we were just kind of hanging on, but we pushed back in the second, got in some penalty trouble in the third but showed a lot of character on that penalty kill. Unfortunately, they scored on one, but I thought we did a good job with them."

In general, NHL teams try to stay away from so-called bulletin-board material, especially the Bruins. Every once in a while, a Bruins player and even coach Claude Julien will throw a shot at an opponent, but it's unusual.

But with the playoffs set to begin in less than a month, the Bruins and Canadiens set the tone Monday for a possible postseason series both on and off the ice.

Early in the first period, Montreal defenseman Alexei Emelin upended Lucic with a clean, open-ice hip check in the neutral zone. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara took exception to the hit and tried to get Emelin to drop the gloves, but Emelin did not oblige and Chara was given a two-minute roughing penalty at 1:19. After the game, Lucic shared his displeasure for Emelin.

"Whether it's fair, legal or whatever you want to call it, if he wasn't scared, he would stand up and hit me and not go after my knees," Lucic said of Emelin. "It just shows how big of a chicken he is that he needs to go down like that to take me down. It shows what kind of player he is, and on my end, you know you've got to keep your guard up at all times."

Lucic and Emelin continued their physical play throughout the game. Late in the third period, a video replay showed Lucic hit Emelin in the backside with the toe of his stick, but it's unclear exactly where he connected. Emelin skated off the ice hunched over.

"Just skating by him and that's all," Lucic said. "People are trying to say I speared him. I did not spear him, so that's it."

Montreal coach Michel Therrien said his team's victory wasn't about ending Boston's streak. It was about earning a critical two points. Before and after the game, Therrien praised the Bruins for what they have accomplished this month. Behind closed doors, however, the message to his players probably was a little different than his lip service to the media.

Julien, who coached the Canadiens earlier in his career, has said plenty of times during his tenure in Boston that there's a legitimate hatred between these teams. It shows during the regular season, and it's been evident in their many playoff series, too.

The Eastern Conference standings are tight, and if these teams were to play in the postseason, it would likely be in the second round.

"I think it would be a very physical series, and we would try to play just like we did tonight and hit them every chance we get," Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. "They're probably going to want to do the same thing they did tonight -- poke at us and try to get us to take penalties. It would be a lot of fun to watch."

Boston played impressive hockey during its streak. Still, there were some areas -- mostly the team's defensive game -- in which Julien wanted to see improvement. He said it wasn't about the streak, but more about the process. The Bruins want to be playing their best hockey once the puck drops on the playoffs.

So after the streak ended Monday night with a shootout loss, Julien wasn't disappointed. The Bruins still earned a point and remain atop the Eastern Conference with 104 points. That the Bruins fell to 2-4 in games decided in a shootout means absolutely nothing.

"We managed to get that point, and if we have a weakness, it's pretty obvious it's in the shootouts," Julien said. "We don't do well, and I don't care about that because it doesn't happen in playoffs."

Julien wasn't pleased with his team's lack of discipline early in the game, but he also knows that won't be the case once the playoffs arrive.

"Just because they won tonight in a shootout doesn't mean we're going to go in the playoffs and have the same kind of situation," Julien said. "If we happen to meet them in the playoffs, and that's an 'if' we'll deal with, but you can be sure that's not going to happen."

The Bruins are not a team to make excuses, but Julien chalked up Monday's shootout loss to the fact the team just returned from a three-game road trip in three separate time zones, then had a five-hour flight home on Sunday. In Julien's mind, that contributed to Boston's slow and undisciplined start.

"It was a typical game that teams play when they come off one of those road trips," Julien said. "I can't explain it. Everybody goes through that; it's just one of those things that becomes a challenge.

"We played hard. We kept with it, and we kept ourselves in the game and managed to tie it. You can't win 12 in a row and lose one in a shootout and say, 'I'm really disappointed in my team.' I don't think so. I think our team is OK, and we've got another great challenge coming up, which is what we want, and that's Chicago on Thursday."

On Thursday, the Blackhawks will return to Boston for the first time since hoisting the Stanley Cup after Game 6 of the finals last June 24. The Bruins hope to return to the finals for the third time in four seasons this June, and if the hockey gods have anything to do with it, let's hope Boston needs to go through Montreal to get there.

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