BROSSARD, Que. -- A late-season game between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens doesn't exactly need any juicy storylines to ramp up the excitement level.
But with the game these two teams played the last time they met, the entire hockey world will have its eyes fixed on Tuesday's re-match at the Bell Centre. And if the Canadiens have anything to say about it, what those people see will have zero resemblance to the Feb. 9 brawl-fest in Boston that featured 182 penalty minutes and finished as an 8-6 Boston win.
"Our strength is obviously in our skill and our speed," Canadiens goalie Carey Price, named the NHL's Third Star of the Week on Monday, said after practice. "We've got a few physical guys in here, but for the most part we're going to hurt guys on scoreboards and not so much physically. We just have to play our game and hopefully we can hurt them that way."
This game is of the utmost importance for two teams playing excellent hockey of late.
The Bruins are coming off an overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, one that snapped a seven-game winning streak that began one game before Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli acquired highly coveted defenseman Tomas Kaberle. While Kaberle's offensive contribution has been limited to 1 assist, in Kaberle's first six games with his new team Boston allowed only seven goals.
The Canadiens are riding a four-game winning streak that has allowed them to keep pace with the Bruins in the race for the Northeast Division crown -- and the top-three playoff seeding that goes with it. Montreal sits five points behind the Bruins with one fewer game to play, so a regulation-time victory Tuesday would cut the gap to a very manageable three points.
"Boston-Montreal is always fun no matter what," said Canadiens center Scott Gomez. "They don't like us, we don't like them and it makes for good hockey. We want to catch them. They've played outstanding, they made some moves, they're a well-coached team and we'll have to be at our best to beat them."
Montreal undoubtedly will be trying to focus on the fact that prior to their last meeting, the Canadiens had won eight of nine regular-season games with the Bruins dating to the start of last season. Whatever they were doing then clearly worked, and it was diverting from that formula that got the Canadiens into trouble in Boston.
"They dictated that game. They came out and were physical and came at us," said Canadiens defenseman Hal Gill. "We kind of fell into that trap. We have to realize that our game is a speed game. It's not that we can't match them physically and play strong against them, but we have to know our strengths and play to those."
Both teams have undergone some changes since their last meeting, with Boston bringing in Kaberle, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley, while the Canadiens have added defensemen Paul Mara and Brent Sopel. Mara brings an element of toughness to the Canadiens that could be useful against the Bruins, and though he has not been a regular in the lineup since the trade that brought him over from the Anaheim Ducks on Feb. 16, he hopes he'll be able to prove his worth Tuesday.
"I know where I was exactly. I was in the locker room in Vancouver watching that game unfold and wishing so bad I was playing in it," said Mara, who was traded to Montreal exactly a week after that game. "First and foremost we want a win. We're chasing these guys in our division. But at the same time we have to take a stand and show them we're not going to back down."
Injuries may play a role in the outcome of Tuesday's game. For the Bruins, defensemen Steven Kampfer and Andrew Ference remained at home when the team left for Montreal on Monday and neither will be available to play.
Neither Sopel nor forward Michael Cammalleri practiced with the Canadiens on Monday, and coach Jacques Martin would not confirm whether either of them will play against Boston.
But for the Canadiens' players in uniform, Tuesday's game will be about far more than some form of revenge. Or at least, not the revenge most people are thinking of.
"Revenge is winning," Gill said. "So we want revenge, and I'm sure they want to keep coming."
For our team, as a group, we've never been this far before, and so it's just more lessons learned, and sometimes you have to go to the school of hard knocks to find out what works and what doesn't. We've got a young group. They've played some unreal hockey here to get us this far, and we showed if we're not going to play the proper way, a really, really good hockey team is going to beat you, and that's what they did. It's a lesson learned.
— Lightning coach Jon Cooper after Rangers win in Game 6 forced a Game 7 that will be played at Madison Square Garden on Friday