BostonBruins.com- The moment everyone has been waiting for is now only hours away.
Puck drop on the latest chapter of the storied rivalry between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens is set for 7:12 p.m. tonight and the Bruins are fired up and ready to go.
Montreal took the regular season series four games to two, but it has long been understood by both sides that the regular season statistics can be thrown out the window, because the playoffs represent a whole new season.
The history between the two clubs is hard to ignore as they’ve faced each other in the first round of the postseason 32 times previously and in three of the last four years.
But the Bruins see themselves as a different team even than the group that swept Montreal in the first round two springs ago, and are ready to blend their core group of players with their recent additions to make a deep playoff run.
But first thing’s first for the Bruins: Beat Montreal. And even before that: Win Game 1.
Top line ready for playoff run
The Bruins top line of Milan Lucic
, Nathan Horton
and David Krejci
has arguably been the best offensive trio for Boston in the final sprint of the regular season, and they have no plans of slowing down any time soon.
Horton, who has no postseason experience, and Lucic stand as the physical bookends on either side of Krejci’s speed and playmaking abilities.
“We’ve got that opportunity to have two big guys that are really strong wingers and that have a physical presence. And certainly over the course of a series, when you have to face these guys night in and night out, it can’t be a lot of fun,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said of Horton and Lucic.
“So hopefully they’ll be on their game and they’re going to create that for us.”
Krejci missed part of last season’s playoffs due to injury and is excited to get back into the fold with his linemates.
“I think all of us make each other a better hockey player. Especially these two, they make so much room for myself so I have so much room to play with the puck,” Krejci said.
“They’re just monsters. I feel like I can do anything on the ice and no one can touch me.”
Lucic and Horton are both physical players, who also have an offensive touch. Lucic paced the Bruins in goals this season with 30, and Horton was close behind with 26.
Take into consideration that both players went through mid-season slumps and combined for 14 fighting majors, and you have a recipe for success.
Lucic, Horton and Krejci combined for 69-108-177 scoring totals this season.
While Horton has never seen playoff ice, Julien is confident that his style of play is perfectly suited for the postseason.
“I think those power forwards are always successful in the playoffs because that’s what it is. It’s a grind and those players are big and strong, and a guy like him who can shoot the puck and use his size to his advantage and make some space for himself,” Julien said of Horton.
“He’s a physical player and we’ve talked about him having played with an edge for quite a while now and he’s gotten so much better the second half in regards to his approach that I have a really good feeling with him.”
Horton and Lucic have been together on the first line all season, and since Horton’s arrival via a trade with Florida in the offseason, the two wingers have become friends on and off the ice—which only adds to their skating chemistry.
“It’s been fun. I think we enjoy playing together,” Horton said of Lucic.
“We get along well and our styles gel on the ice and I think when we’re really moving our feet and working hard things happen and we create lots of chances.”
Boston vs. Montreal playoff history
When the puck drops at 7:10 p.m. tonight, the Bruins and Canadiens will be kicking off their 33rd postseason series. In 163 playoff games the B’s have a 64-99 record versus Montreal.
The two teams have met more times in postseason play than any other two NHL opponents. There are 11 NHL teams that have not yet played 32 total series in their playoff histories.
This year’s first round match-up between the two organizations marks the third time in the last four years the teams have seen each other in the Conference Quarter-Final Series. Two of the previous three times, the series went to seven games.
In the 2008 match-up the Bruins took the Canadiens to seven games after trailing in the series three games to one. It was the first time in their playoff history that the Bruins had forced a Game 7 after trailing 1-3 and was also the first time in Montreal’s postseason history that they were taken to a Game 7 after leading a series 3-1.
In the most recent match-up, the 2009 Eastern Conference Quarter-Final Series, the Bruins swept Montreal, outscoring them 17-6 in the four games.
The Canadiens hold a 484-403 scoring edge over Boston in their 163 playoff contests.
In terms of special teams, which is always a key in the postseason and should be even more so in the series beginning tonight, the Bruins have a career 13 percent power play scoring rate against Montreal in the postseason, while coming in with an 85.9 percent penalty killing rate.
Montreal has a 14.1 percent scoring rate on the man-advantage all-time against the B’s in the postseason, with an 87 percent kill percentage in those contests.
Two players who could prove to be key for Boston this postseason have nearly point-a-game numbers against Montreal in the postseason.
First-line sniper David Krejci
has a 3-7-10 scoring line in 11 postseason contests against Montreal and winger Michael Ryder comes in with 4-3-7 totals in just four playoff games against the Canadiens.
Special teams key in postseason
Special teams can be the difference in any game, but the case is even truer in the postseason when every whistle and every penalty can be a difference-maker in a game, or even a series.
The Canadiens come into tonight’s battle confident in their special teams. Montreal finished out the regular season ranked in the Top 10 in the league in both power play and penalty killing.
“This is a team we’re playing that is pretty good on the power play, they’ve had success and we have to stay out of the box as best we can here,” Julien said.
On the other side of the equation, the Bruins finished the season mid-pack in terms of special teams, but they have voiced their confidence in their power play over recent weeks despite its struggles.
Tomas Kaberle was added to the mix before the trade deadline to tighten up the blueline on the man-advantage and Julien has tried different looks with the front three to try and spark the offense.
In terms of penalty killing, the Bruins have been solid for most of the season and have often come up big when they find themselves a man -- or two -- down. That is going to have to be the case for the duration on the postseason, if the B’s hope to make a long run.
The key for Boston will be balancing their physical style with the whistle of the officials to keep themselves out of the box and away from disadvantaged numbers.
“When we are going to end up in the penalty box, our penalty kill is going to have to really be good for us and as you know special teams always play a big role in the playoffs and we’re no different,” Julien added.
“We expect our special teams to come up big for us.”
Montreal player to watch: Carey Price
Much like the Bruins will rely heavily on Tim Thomas
to carry them through the postseason, the Canadiens will rely even more so on goaltender Carey Price.
|Montreal Canadiens golatender Carey Price looks on during hockey practice Tuesday, April 12, 2011 in Brossard, Quebec. The Canadiens play the Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs on Thursday in Boston. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz) |
Price set a team record for most games played by a goaltender in a season this year when he stood between the pipes for the Canadiens in 79 contests.
He played 4,206 minutes, racking up a 38-28-6 record and eight shutouts. Price allowed 165 goals for a 2.35 goals against average and made 2,147 saves for a .923 save percentage.
When it comes to the postseason, Price’s numbers aren’t as a good, but the young goaltender hasn’t had as much experience to take his stats from.
In 19 playoff contests, Price has a 5-11 record with two shutouts. He’s allowed 53 goals while making 500 saves, giving him a .894 save percentage and a 3.56 goals against average.
The Canadiens defense has been hurt by recent injuries and they will rely on Price to carry them down the stretch.