Although it became less likely with the Canadiens' back-to-back wins against the Ottawa Senators this weekend, the possibility remains that the Bruins and Canadiens could play against each other in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and if not, possibly the second round. And that would mean a reunion between the coach and his former players, between a man who spent 10 years behind the bench in Boston and athletes he nurtured and taught.
"I'm not there yet, to be honest with you," Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said, of breaking down the playoff race. "It would be definitely special. It would be kind of surreal, almost, because he was with us half the year. I don't know what to say. The rivalry with Montreal is always something special, and now Claude being there would add to it."
Video: BOS@OTT: Bergeron spins, fires wrister past Anderson
With less than three weeks to play in the regular season, the Canadiens occupy the top spot in the Atlantic Division with 90 points. The Senators, who have one game in hand, are four points back, at 86. The Bruins are four points back of the Senators, in third place with 82 points.
Right now, the Bruins would play the Senators in the first round. Of course, given what has happened to the Bruins in the past two seasons -- narrowly missing the postseason each time -- they're not quite ready to talk playoff opponents. They would be happy to face anyone.
"We're so far away from that right now," Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. "Based on the way the last seasons have gone, we know first-hand the way things can turn around at any given point. So we'll worry about that when the time comes. But it is a possibility and it would be interesting. But we do have to get there first."
Video: BOS@EDM: Marchand nets Bergeron's smooth feed
Given how long Julien coached the Bruins and the players on that team, he knows all of their secrets, all of their tendencies, all their foibles. Would that give Julien the edge?
"At the same time, we know how he coaches too," Bergeron said. "I guess you can put it both ways."
Said Marchand, "It just comes down to compete and will at that point. They'll definitely try to use some of that inside info against us, if that's ever to come. But it'll be a battle regardless."
Because it always is. A battle and a circus and a media bonanza. That happens with Boston and Montreal anyway, even in the regular season, let alone in the playoffs, let alone with a coach who changed sides in the middle of the season.
"As long as we get in the playoffs, I don't care who we play," Marchand said. "Once you get there, everyone has the same chance. It would be interesting, for sure, and I think the fans would love it. It'd be a good media frenzy. But we're a long ways from there."
Video: OTT@MTL: Price sprawls across for a fantastic save
Babcock praises Rielly's development
Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock was unstinting with his praise.
"I think [Morgan's] a great player," Babcock said, of 23-year-old Morgan Rielly on Saturday. "I think he's one of the best young [defensemen] in the world and we're pumped to have him."
It has not always been perfect for Rielly this season.
There have been ups and downs, struggles and triumphs. But for a player who turned 23 this month, it has also been one of continued growth, one of learning along with his teammates as the improvements have come.
And it has been necessary for a rapidly-improving Maple Leafs team that is incredibly talented on the offensive side, but has deficiencies defensively. But as Babcock noted, the potential is there for Rielly, who is in his fourth season in the NHL, and will continue to be there for him, especially as he matures, although, he cautioned it's not always good to ride those ups and downs, the world of outside praise and criticism, especially on social media.
"If I was him, what I wouldn't do is I wouldn't live in that world," Babcock said. "It's up to him. If it's going really good, grab the newspaper every day and look at the standings. When it's not going good, you're going to beat yourself up, as anybody who really likes their profession and is really good at their profession, is going to beat themselves up enough on their own."
Video: BOS@TOR: Rielly puts home his own rebound with knee
Eight players in the NHL are averaging at least 1.00 points per game, with two of those players coming from the Atlantic Division, in Marchand (1.11) and Nikita Kucherov (1.11). Bruins forward David Pastrnak at 0.98 is just outside that pace. … Bergeron is the only player in the League who is in the top 13 in shots on goal who has yet to score 20 goals. He has 17 with 259 shots on goal which ranks fifth. Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets, who ranks 12th in shots on goal (228), has the next-fewest (21).
Video: WSH@TBL: Kucherov sizzles a wrister in off faceoff
Games to watch
Ottawa Senators at Boston Bruins (March 21, 7 p.m. ET; NESN, RDS2, TSN5, NHL.TV) - With the Stanley Cup Playoffs looming, this could be a preview of a first-round matchup between the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the Atlantic Division.
Ottawa Senators at Montreal Canadiens (March 25, 7 p.m. ET; SN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV) - The Senators and Canadiens are battling to determine which will be the top seed in the Atlantic Division, with Montreal taking back-to-back games last weekend. However, that No. 1 spot brings with it a likely playoff matchup with the No. 4 team in the impressive Metropolitan Division.
Detroit Red Wings at Carolina Hurricanes (March 28, 7 p.m. ET; FS-CR, FS-D+, NHL.TV) - This is a chance to see a rarity, a team (Red Wings) playing in the third game of a back-to-back-to-back, something that almost never happens in the NHL. This game was originally supposed to be played Dec. 19 but was postponed because of issues with the ice at PNC Arena.
Florida Panthers at Toronto Maple Leafs (March 28, 7:30 p.m. ET; TSN4, FS-F, NHL.TV) - The previous time the Maple Leafs played the Panthers (March 14), it resulted in a 7-2 win by Florida, and Toronto will look to exact a measure of revenge.
Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning (April 1, 7 p.m. ET; CITY, TVA Sports, SUN, NHL.TV) - The Lightning have come on strong of late, making a push for the postseason after selling at the deadline. Every game will be crucial for them, this one particularly so.