The Detroit Red Wings had a 3-1-0 record against the Boston Bruins entering their first-round series. That didn't matter much once the puck dropped on the Stanley Cup playoffs, as Boston won the first round in five games.
The Montreal Canadiens, Boston's next opponent, also won three of four meetings with Boston this season. Like the Red Wings, the Canadiens are fast and will try to use that to their advantage against the Bruins in the second round.
"It's obviously another difficult [challenge]," said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. "We were mediocre against them during the year. They're a team that has given us trouble historically, so it'll be a challenge that way. Much is said about their size and their speed, and allegedly that's what gives us problems, and 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, and you see what happened with that."
This series marks the 34th time the Bruins and Canadiens will meet in the postseason, with Montreal holding a 24-9 series advantage. This will be the fourth time since 2008 these Original Six teams have faced off in the playoffs. Boston has won seven of the last 11 meetings, including a dramatic seven-game series during the 2011 Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Of the playoff-bound teams at the conclusion of the regular season, it appeared the only team that could give the Bruins trouble in the playoffs was the Canadiens. Boston, however, has become a perennial Stanley Cup contender and has been to the finals twice in a three-year span, winning in 2011. Backstopped by Vezina Trophy finalist Tuukka Rask and featuring a leadership core of Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Shawn Thornton and Jarome Iginla, the Bruins will rely on their experience.
This should no doubt be another classic series between these rival organizations, and goaltending will be a key factor.
Bruins: Tuukka Rask
Despite a 3-10-3 career record against the Canadiens, Rask is confident he'll be able to stop Montreal in this series. This season, he was 1-2-1 with a 1.94 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage in four games against Montreal. He was even pulled once. Defensively, the Bruins had trouble handling Montreal's speed, and that left Rask vulnerable too often. In the first-round series against Detroit, Rask stopped 146 of 152 shots for a 1.16 GAA and a .961 save percentage.
During the regular-season series, Price played only one game against the Bruins and posted a 2-1 win on Dec. 5 at Bell Centre. Overall, he's 17-8-3 with a 2.50 GAA and a .919 save percentage in 29 games against the Bruins. In the Canadiens' four-game first-round sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Price allowed 10 goals and finished with 94 saves. Because Boston has the ability to get pucks on net on a consistent basis, Price will need to be at his best and also rely on his teammates to cut down shooting and passing lanes, and to block shots. When the Canadiens acquired forward Thomas Vanek at the trade deadline, Montreal became a better team, especially against the Bruins. He has 62 points in 55 career games against the Bruins. Vanek and linemates Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais will present a problem for the Bruins, but Boston will send out the line of Brad Marchand, Bergeron and Reilly Smith to match them.
Hero In Waiting
Bruins: Carl Soderberg
One of the reasons the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 was a solid third line of Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Michael Ryder. This season, the Bruins have been blessed once again with a strong third unit of Kelly, Soderberg and Loui Eriksson. Kelly is currently sidelined with a back injury; rookie Justin Florek has replaced him. Still, the line was strong in the series against the Red Wings. Soderberg was a beast. He was quietly one of the Bruins' best forwards in the entire series, and he'll only get stronger against the Canadiens. He's genuinely excited about this series; because the Canadiens will need to focus on Boston's top two lines, the third line should do some damage, specifically Soderberg.
Canadiens: Carey Price
The only way Montreal wins this series is if its goaltender stands on his head. Price has enjoyed success against the Bruins in his career (17-8-3/2.50/.919), but the playoffs are a different animal. The Bruins will crash the net with reckless abandon and try to create havoc in front of Price. He's the last line of defense and he'll need to be at his best. If the Canadiens win this series, it will be because of their goalie.
Bruins: Getting suckered in
If Boston can remain disciplined and play a clean game, it will be difficult for Montreal win 5-on-5. Whether it's the regular season or the playoffs, it's always an emotional game when these teams face off. This season, Montreal did a solid job of getting Boston to cross the line. In the four games, the Canadiens drew 17 penalties. However, the Bruins' penalty-killing unit is so good, Montreal capitalized only twice on the man advantage. Already this postseason, it appears the officials are calling more penalties, and that could be an advantage for the Canadiens.
Canadiens: Too much time off
It will have been nine days between games for the Canadiens when the puck drops on this series. Yes, rest does help, but any momentum Montreal gained in its four-game sweep against Tampa Bay falls by the wayside and turns to rust. Plus, a few days off for Boston allows the Bruins to get healthier without losing their edge.
Just because the Bruins defeated the Red Wings in five games doesn't mean it was an easy series. Boston was tested, but it responded appropriately. It will be much of the same against Montreal, and even though this series will be a classic, the Bruins will rely on their experience, strength, size, depth and solid goaltending to win out in the end.
Bruins in 7