In the Canadiens dressing room, it’s the exact same story.
It’s no secret that when these two teams face off, emotions tend to run high. There are going to be scrums, there are going to be words exchanged after the whistle — that’s just the nature of this storied rivalry.
But how worthwhile will the scrums and the chatter be for the team that doesn’t emerge victorious from this series?
“What’s more important: giving that one punch back to the guy, sitting in the box, or sucking it up?” said defenseman Josh Gorges after Montreal’s skate on Thursday. “Maybe you get on the power play, maybe it stays 5-on-5 or 4-on-4, whatever it may be. You got to think of the outcome of this. It’s smarter to just walk away.”
There is a fine line between using emotions as fuel and letting them get out of hand.
“Everybody seems to think that’s going to be the key to this series — whoever can toe that line the closest without going over,” said forward Daniel Briere. “I expect both teams at times to maybe cross it. It’s just the way it is. It’s hockey. It’s playoff hockey, and that’s what makes it exciting. But I’m looking forward to this series. This is something special to have the chance to have a Habs-Bruins playoff series.”
Over the last few days, the Bruins have also acknowledged that toeing that all-important line will be key in this series. Both teams, however, have also said that it’s easier said than done, once the puck drops and the adrenaline is pumping full force.
But neither team wants to be the one that gets caught off its game.
“We want to play an up tempo, in-their-face kind of game, where we’re pushing the pace, we’re skating hard, we’re skating fast,” Gorges said. “But we got to keep our emotions in check. Obviously, when you get into the playoffs against any team, there’s a lot of emotion involved in these games. But it’s the team that stays the course and stays between themselves that usually comes out on top.”
All feelings aside, the Canadiens know the Bruins finished the regular season with the best record in hockey. The Habs may have won the regular season series 1-2-1, but they certainly aren’t expecting this second-round series to be a breeze.
“The Boston Bruins are the best team in the league right now, and this year,” said Canadiens Head Coach Michel Therrien. “So we understand that it’s a huge challenge every time — not only for us, but all the teams that played the Bruins this year. They finished in first place, and it was well deserved, so yes, we’re confident.”
Another key: Neither team wants to be the one that gives the opposing power play unnecessary chances. In the first round, the Bruins operated at a 37.5 percent clip in five games against Detroit, and the Canadiens scored two power-play goals on 13 opportunities in a four-game sweep of Tampa Bay.
“You understand how good their power play is,” Gorges said. “You can’t be giving them those extra opportunities on the power play, but when they do get them, we have to be sharp on the kill. As much as you can, you got to try to limit their time and space and force them to make tough plays.
“They got two really good units that kind of have different styles on each unit, so it’s important for us to just be prepared beforehand.”
As for whether he was surprised to hear over the last few days that the Bruins aren't big fans of his team, Gorges simply smiled.
“I think we knew that before we started,” he said. “This rivalry has gone back well before I even started playing hockey. There’s no love lost between these two teams.”
Canadiens Ready to Go After Long Layoff
It has been nine days since the last time the Canadiens played a game. That, of course, was April 22, the day they finished off a sweep of the Lightning in the first round of the playoffs.
Since then, it’s been a whole lot of sitting around and waiting for what’s next.
“I feel sometimes like a lot of people have forgotten that the Canadiens are still in the playoffs,” Briere said with a smile. “But there’s been a lot of good hockey been played in the last week. It’s been fun watching. One of the keys tonight for us is how soon, or how quick, we can get our minds back into the playoff grind, the playoff atmosphere.
“That’s going to be probably the biggest obstacle to start the game.”
Both teams saw in their first-round series how important it is to get off to a good start. Generating some early momentum will be the primary task on Thursday night, especially given the top-notch goaltending on both sides.
“You’re on your couch, watching all the other teams play, and you’re sitting at home, and you can appreciate how hard they’re working, and how hard they’re going at each other,” Briere said. “But when you’re not in the battle yourself, it’s easy to let yourself go mentally, and that’s why I just said how quick we’re going to be able to get that mindset back is going to be a key point for us.”
In that sense, the intensity that always promptly develops between these two teams should help the Habs get back into the swing of things quickly.
And on the upside, the extra rest certainly gave Montreal plenty of time for any bumps and bruises to heal.
“I think both physically and mentally, [the rest] is good,” said forward Lars Eller. “Whatever bumps and bruises you had, everybody’s 100 percent good to go now.
“I think for us, it’s not an issue. The more we talk about it, the more it has become this big thing now. I don’t know why. It’s like I said before: The longer you’re out, the more excited you get to come back in. Boston had a long break, too. I don’t see it as a disadvantage at all.”
Just to make sure the Habs didn’t go too long without a game, Therrien tried to simulate a gameday on Tuesday: He held a morning skate, an afternoon activity and a closed scrimmage that night.
“Game shape is something you always need to work on,” Therrien said. “The best way to get in game shape is to play some games. That’s why this week, we had that day that had the morning skate, let the guys play a game at night and, to an extent, to try and kind of feel that game shape, to keep the game shape. So that was the purpose — because you could practice as long as you want, but a game is different. And I’m convinced that our players are ready to play those type of games tonight.”
If anything, Briere said that the long layoff made him all the more eager to get back to it.
“It’s exciting to finally get there,” he said. “Like I said, we’ve seen a lot of good hockey in the past week, but finally to have our chance to get back — it was weird, because I felt I was sitting on my couch watching, and I felt like it was almost as if I was done playing because it’s so long watching other games.
“But it’s a good feeling. Finally, our time is here, and we can get back on the ice get back at it.”
Thursday’s skate was technically an optional for the Habs, but the only player not out on the ice was Max Pacioretty. Therrien insisted the top liner simply “took the option” — just like he did himself.
Therrien was mum on the lines for Game 1 but did say that he’s comfortable with all of the options that his team’s depth provides.
“You know what, with our lineup, one thing that I like about our team — we got a lot of depth,” he said. “Like yesterday, were talking about [Frances] Bouillon and [Mike] Weaver, and whether they’re playing, and you know what? For our defense, [Jarred] Tinordi and [Douglas] Murray — those are two physical guys that we like, and they’re tough to play against.
“But you’ll see my lineup tonight.”