No, the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens don't meet every postseason. It just seems that way.
But perhaps they should, because you never know what will happen when these two fierce Original Six rivals come together in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Take last season, for example. Montreal won all eight regular-season meetings en route to taking the top spot in the East, while the Bruins scuffled into the playoffs at the last possible moment. Then, Montreal took a 3-1 series lead and everyone thought it was over. Everyone except Boston, that is. The Bruins won the next two games and forced a Game 7 before finally bowing out.
Now it is the Bruins who own the upper hand as the top seed in the East while the Canadiens are in disarray. They've been free-falling since the All-Star Break, a slide that cost their coach his job. To add to the misery, Montreal earned just one win in six games against Boston this season.
But as we learned last spring, none of that will matter when the puck drops in Game 1 of this Eastern Conference Quarterfinal. While we won't even be able to guess what will happen in this series, we virtually can guarantee it will be wildly entertaining.
Boston ranked second in scoring with 274 goals. Phil Kessel led with 36 and Michael Ryder had 27. Marc Savard, David Krejci, rookie Blake Wheeler and Chuck Kobasew exceeded 20 goals, as did late-season acquisition Mark Recchi.
Ryder led the Bruins with 10 power-play goals and seven game-winners.
First-line center Savard had 63 assists and was tied for ninth in League scoring.
Krejci led the NHL with a plus-37 rating and Wheeler was second at plus-36, while Ryder was plus-28 and Savard plus-25. Savard led Boston forwards with an average ice time of 19:32 per game.
Milan Lucic led Bruins forwards with 262 hits, tied for fifth in the NHL. Stephane Yelle led the Bruins forwards with 56 blocked shots and Savard was tops with 55 takeaways.
Up front, Montreal has found lightning in a bottle since the return of forward Alex Tanguay from injury. Upon his return in late March, Tanguay was placed on the top line with Alex Kovalev and Saku Koivu and that trio scored 32 points in 10 games since being re-assembled March 24. Tanguay missed 31 games with a shoulder injury, and his return eased the shock of losing Robert Lang, who led the team in scoring when he was lost for the season Feb. 1.
The Canadiens struggled to find successful second and third lines. Tomas Plekanec had 20 goals, down from 29 a year ago, and 39 points, down from 69. The Kostitsyn brothers, Sergei and Andrei, also have had off years. Matt D'Agostini had 4 goals in his first five games, but he went more than two months without a goal before scoring in the season's final week.
Chris Higgins was limited to 57 games because of a hand injury and his 12 goals and 23 points were the worst of his five-year career.
Captain Zdeno Chara is a tower of strength and a model of positional play in his role as first-pairing left defenseman. He played every game but the final two of the season, led the defense with 19 goals, 169 hits, three game-winners, 216 shots, 26:04 average ice time, 27.5 shifts per game, and 28 takeaways. He was second with 123 blocked shots and tied for the team lead with 50 points.
Rookie Matt Hunwick has excellent puck-moving, shooting and skating skills. He plays some forward, as does late-season acquisition Steve Montador. Mark Stuart and Shane Hnidy are strong physical presences.
Top defenseman Andrei Markov will miss the first round with a knee injury and Mathieu Schneider is playing with a shoulder injury that needs surgery. That doesn't bode well for the team's power play, as Markov and Schneider are the driving forces from the blue line.
Markov was tied for the team scoring lead with 64 points when he was injured; he still finished second-best among NHL defensemen in scoring. Markov is also very solid defensively, so his presence will be missed. Schneider was acquired Feb. 16 and has effectively played with courage and intelligence, but he will be limited by his shoulder injury.
That means the Canadiens will be looking for players like Roman Hamrlik and Mike Komisarek to take on even more responsibility. Hamrlik already plays almost 22 minutes a game, and Komisarek checks in with more than 21 minutes. Josh Gorges (plus-12) and Hamrlik (plus-4) are the only plus players on Montreal's blue line.
Tale of the tape
G - MTL (#31)
height: 6' 3"
G - MTL (#31)
height: 6' 3"
Tim Thomas led NHL goalies with a 2.10 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage while going 36-11-7 in 52 games. He had five shutouts. Thomas is very mobile and acrobatic for a big man and his feisty personality is a big part of the Bruins' identity.
The goaltending statistics, which are influenced by overall team play, are not very good for the Canadiens. Carey Price finished 23-16-10, ranked No. 31 in the League with a 2.83 goals-against average and No. 31 with a .905 save percentage. Price has struggled down the stretch and finished the season with just five wins in his final 18 starts (5-8-5), allowing three or more goals in 14 of those games.
Jaroslav Halak, meanwhile, is 18-14-1 with a .915 save percentage and a 2.86 GAA. He could get some playing time if Price struggles.
Claude Julien is 94-48-22 in two seasons with the Bruins, his third NHL coaching job after stints with the Canadiens and Devils. The Bruins had the 22nd-best record two years ago; were 14th in 2007-08 and second in the NHL this season. Julien's Bruins led the Eastern Conference wire-to-wire.
General Manager Bob Gainey fired coach Guy Carbonneau with 16 games remaining and the team sitting at 35-24-7, second in the Northeast Division. But the Canadiens had lost 10 of 13 games after the All-Star Game. The Habs put together a 6-6-4 finishing kick under Gainey, who has a 194-210-66 coaching record in eight NHL seasons.
Boston's power play ranked second at home and No. 13 on the road, finishing fourth overall with a 23.6 percent success rate. Teams played them cautiously. The Bruins ranked No. 26 in power-play opportunities, earning just 313. Boston was fourth-best at killing penalties on the road but only 19th at home, finishing No. 12 overall at 82.4 percent. The Bruins had eight shorthanded goals, tied for 12th.
Montreal led the NHL in power-play efficiency in each of the past two seasons, but slipped to No. 13 in 2008-09, clicking at just 19.2 percent of its chances. The Habs are No. 16 at home at 18.2 percent, and No. 9 on the road at 20.4 percent.
The Canadiens are also in the middle of the pack on the penalty kill, registering an 82.4 percent kill rate, good for No. 11 in the League. There is little deviation from their home performance to their road showing.
Carey Price, Montreal -- At the end of the season, Carey Price was not playing well enough to win a playoff series, especially against a top seed playing at its peak. But goalies have been known to change their fortunes in a hurry and if Price can recapture the magic that made him a fan favorite so early in his career, he could give the Bruins' shooters fits and put some doubt into the minds of Boston's rabid fandom.
Bruins will win if... They continue to find offense from varied sources. Claude Julien's team goes three lines deep in scoring threats and, therefore, is almost impossible to check into submission. Try to match your checkers against one line and another will step up. Such diversity is also bad news for Price, who rarely will get a lull in the action to get his thoughts together -- never a good thing for a goalie trying to find his game.
Canadiens will win if... They capitalize on the edge that history gives them. Montreal has had Boston's number for so long (24 wins in 31 previous meetings) and caused the Bruin Nation so much heartache that the Canadiens can make this supposed David vs. Goliath battle go all squirrely with a win in the first two games. If that happens, the pressure will be firmly on the shoulders of the Bruins and Montreal can pounce.