If there’s any rivalry that can approach Leafs-Habs in both mutual hatred and history, it’s the Bruins and Canadiens. The two teams have met in the playoffs 32 previous times, with the Habs holding a 24-8 lead overall. This year, the rivalry got even hotter, between Zdeno Chara’s controversial hit on Max Pacioretty and a 187-penalty minute old-time hockey brawl that even featured a goalie fight. Both teams have plenty of veterans with loads of playoff experience, and this series should be one of the most exciting of the first round. Plus, it’s a win-win for Leafs fans – a Montreal win means the Bruins’ first round pick (owned by the Leafs) is lower, while a Boston win means those damn Canadiens are out.
Offense: The Bruins scored 30 more goals than the Canadiens this season, and featured eight 40-point scorers, including Chara. The Habs had just four 40-point scorers, and only three 20-goal scorers. No Canadien broke the 30-goal plateau, as Brian Gionta only tallied 29. The Bruins only won two of the six games the teams played this year, but they scored 15 goals in those two wins. When the Bruins’ offense is clicking, they’re a tough team to beat, especially with the defense and goaltending that stands behind them.
Defense: Chara is clearly the main attraction on the Boston blueline, but there’s plenty of other talent back there. The Bruins’ D is big, can handle and shoot the puck, and loves to play the body. Chara led the league with a +33 rating, as well. The Habs will be without both Josh Gorges and Andrei Markov, but that’s nothing new to them, and the addition of James Wisniewski has been a real shot in the arm. Montreal has a veteran blueline, with the exception of PK Subban, but in terms of talent, on paper, the Bruins’ blueline holds a clear edge.
Goaltending: What’s exceptionally impressive about both Tim Thomas and Carey Price and the great seasons they turned in this year is the fact that both men lost the starting job to their backups last season. Instead of letting it shake their confidence, both Price and Thomas turned in excellent seasons, and Thomas is likely headed for another Vezina trophy. Price is the biggest reason the Habs are in the playoffs, and started in 15 more games than Thomas did this year.
Special Teams: The Canadiens have one of the better penalty kills in the league right now, with their impressive speed, while Boston’s powerplay has been noticeably silent. The addition of Kaberle was expected to energize their play with the man advantage, but it has yet to yield significant positive results. If Kaberle can find his groove in the playoffs, the Bruins should have the firepower to ice a very dangerous powerplay unit. They haven’t been able to do that all year, and have scored the fewest powerplay goals of any playoff team with just 43. Montreal doesn’t have a mind-blowingly great powerplay, but their speed and puck movement could be tough for the big Bruins’ defense to keep up with.
This series has all kinds of intangibles leading into it, and the Bruins will have to make sure they keep their heads free from all the possible distractions. When the series heads to Montreal, the atmosphere will be exceptionally hostile, a fact that the Bruins’ front office is clearly well aware of, having made the decision to send the team to nearby Lake Placid for practice during the delay between Games 3 and 4. The Bruins will probably be happy with a split in Montreal, and I don’t see either team opening up more than a one game lead in this series. Game 7 in Boston would be a hockey fan’s dream, and would ultimately be a coin flip as to which team would be able to bring it the hardest in a decisive game. The Bruins ramped up their play against the Habs late in the season, so I’ll pick the Bruins, but it could very well go either way.
Editor’s Pick: Boston in 7