After watching all seven games of last year's first-round series and the six Montreal and Boston played against each other this season, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli can say with some certainty that these Original Six rivals are closer than the seeds would indicate.
Right now, it doesn't matter that the top-seeded Bruins were 5-0-1 against No. 8 Montreal this season and finished with 23 more points and 12 more wins. Remember that Montreal won all eight meetings last season and still needed to go to Game 7 to beat Boston.
"I think it's close," Chiarelli said Monday on a conference call. "You have to look to last year, where they swept us during the season and it was a close series. There is an element of confidence that we have this year that we didn't have last year."
Right there, Chiarelli hit it out of the park. The Bruins' confidence level this year as opposed to last year could be the key in reversing their own curse against the Habs.
Montreal and Boston have met in the playoffs 31 times already with the Canadiens winning 24 of the series, including in 2004 when the Bruins were the second seed and Montreal was No. 7. As the top seed last season, Montreal beat Boston in seven games.
"You can't ignore it," Chiarelli said of the one-sided advantage Montreal has had over Boston in the past. "It's there. You have to deal with it. I think the fact that we have played them so much last year and this year, the guys know what to expect. I think they're conditioned to it.
"We have had different types of games this year," he continued. "The last game we played them (Boston's 5-4 win in OT last Thursday) was the most up and down and emotional, and probably most mirrored a playoff game. That's probably what we're going to get."
The Canadiens were a desperate team that night in Boston. They needed at least a point to clinch a playoff berth that was in jeopardy no longer than two weeks prior.
However, in the previous four meetings -- all Boston wins -- the Canadiens were still staying the course with Guy Carbonneau
behind the bench and the Bruins were streaking to the top of the Eastern Conference.
Shortly after Boston's 3-1 win over Montreal on Feb. 1, the Canadiens went into a tailspin and fell to eighth in the conference. They won only 13 of their last 32 games (13-14-5), including six of 16 with Gainey behind the bench (6-6-4) and none after Andrei Markov
went out with a shoulder injury (0-3-1).
Markov is likely out for the entire series, but Chiarelli said he's still concerned about the Canadiens' power play because of skilled guys like Alex Kovalev
, Saku Koivu
, Alex Tanguay
and even Mathieu Schneider
, who is playing with a bum shoulder.
"They will be motivated the same way we were last year to play them," Chiarelli said.
The difference, of course, is instead of Boston being motivated to pull an upset, now they're motivated to prove their regular season was no joke. Chiarelli believes that approach will help the Bruins in their quest.
"This year, having occupied the top spot for a large part of the season, it's a different dynamic playing against all the other teams with the games being statement games for the other teams," Chiarelli said. "Our guys learned how to play under different circumstances this season and I think that will translate into success in the playoffs."
Experience helps, and youngsters like David Krejci
, Phil Kessel
and Milan Lucic
have been through the playoff wringer once. Chiarelli wasn't trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes when he acquired Mark Recchi
and Steve Montador
at the deadline.
Recchi has played in 140 playoff games and won the Cup twice (Pittsburgh in 1991, Carolina in 2006). Chiarelli went as far as calling him "a Hall of Fame player. His points and his performance, he's got that pedigree and he's put up those numbers for a reason."
Montador reached the Cup Final with Calgary in 2004. Aaron Ward
, who Chiarelli acquired from the New York Rangers
at the 2007 deadline for Paul Mara
, has played in three Stanley Cup Finals, winning twice (with Detroit in 1998 and Carolina in 2006).
"I think it's close. You have to look to last year, where they swept us during the season and it was a close series. There is an element of confidence that we have this year that we didn't have last year." -- Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli
"They have contributed off the ice all year and when we brought in Mark Recchi
, he has really helped out in that respect," Chiarelli said. "These guys have that experience and that is so significant in the playoffs. It's a large reason why we brought these players in."
Their experience will help calm down the Bruins' emotions, which are guaranteed to spill over in this series. Heck, in last Thursday's game, one Chiarelli said closely resembled a playoff game, the Bs and Habs combined for 27 penalties totaling 76 minutes.
In the second period alone referees Paul Devorski and Dave Jackson called 10 roughing penalties, two fighting majors and handed out two 10-minute misconducts.
While Chiarelli said the Bruins will have to manage their emotions, he does "expect a passionate series on both fronts," and added, "It will help motivate us, the fact that we have a history with them."
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org