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Bruins and Canadiens know each other well

by John Kreiser
It's not true that there's an NHL by-law mandating that the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It only seems that way.

On Thursday night, the Habs and B's faced off for the 32nd time in the playoffs, by far the most of any two teams in NHL history -- Toronto and Detroit are a distant second with 23. But unlike the Leafs and Wings, who’ve played each other evenly (Leafs lead 12-11), the Canadiens have owned the Bruins over the years, winning 24 of their 31 meetings -- including a 4-3 series victory in the opening round last year.

In terms of games played, Montreal is 99-61 against Boston in postseason play, including Thursday's 4-2 loss in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

No other team has beaten another in playoff competition more than 12 times (Toronto against Detroit; Montreal and Boston against Chicago). The Canadiens won 18 series in a row against Boston, beginning with the 1946 Final and extending through the Adams Division Semifinals in 1987.

The only successful decade for the Bruins against the Canadiens was the 1990s, when they won all four meetings (1990, ’91, ’92 and ’94). Montreal has won all three meetings since (2002, '04 and last year).

In contrast to their seemingly annual meeting with the Canadiens, the Bruins haven't seen two other Eastern Conference Original Six rivals in a long time. Boston hasn't faced the New York Rangers since 1973 (a five-game loss in the quarterfinals), and hasn't seen Toronto since sweeping the Leafs in the 1974 quarterfinals.

The wrong kind of perfection — At least the Bruins have a few series wins over the Canadiens -- unlike the Phoenix Coyotes, who in their previous incarnation as the Winnipeg Jets went 0-6 against the Edmonton Oilers. That's the most series losses without a victory by any of the 30 NHL franchises.

Three teams -- Toronto (against Ottawa), Detroit (against Dallas) and Pittsburgh (against the New York Rangers) all are 4-0 in the playoffs. Only the Penguins and Rangers can meet this season.

Five other teams are 3-0 against a rival in postseason play; only the Boston Bruins (against Carolina) have the possibility of extending that streak this year.

Terrible twos — You might think teams that are seeded second under the current playoff format would have a big advantage -- they are division champs, have the home-ice edge and are playing against the next-to-worst qualifier in their conference. Sounds logical, but it’s not true. In the 14 seasons (beginning in 1994) under the current playoff setup, second seeds and seventh seeds have split their 28 series (though second seeds have won both times in each of the past two years). In contrast, No. 1 seeds have gone 21-7 against No. 8 seeds.

Where have the comebacks gone? -- One of the things that makes playoff hockey special is the comeback -- a team rallying after falling behind in a series. But the volume of comebacks from 2-0 and 3-1 series deficits has dropped off in recent years.

Overall, 37 of 291 teams (12.7 percent) that lost the first two games rallied to win a series. But it hasn't happened in the past two years and has been less common since the current playoff format was adopted in 1994. In the 210 series played during the past 14 years, just 12 teams (5.7 percent) have overcome a 2-0 deficit to win. Seven of those comebacks have come in the 64 series played since 2000 (10.9 percent).

There has not been a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit since play resumed in 2005-06 after the work stoppage. Of the 20 such comebacks (in 229 times that a team has trailed 3-1), 18 came from 1987-2004, an average of one a year. The two that came prior to 1987 are still the only two in which a team came back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series -- the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs (against Detroit) and the 1975 New York Islanders (against Pittsburgh).

Firing blanks — Washington's Alex Ovechkin didn't score in the Caps' series-opening 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers, but not for a lack of trying. Ovechkin was credited with 13 shots on goal against Henrik Lundqvist, the most he's ever taken in a game without scoring a goal (he did have 2 assists, including one on a shot that Tomas Fleischmann deflected into the net). Ovechkin also had 10 shots that were blocked and five others that missed the net -- giving him 28 shots at goal, the most by any player in a game this season. The Rangers as a team were credited with just 21 shots on goal and 48 shots at goal.

A tale of Game 1s The Rangers have developed a knack for getting their postseason off to a good start, even though they're on the road. Wednesday's 4-3 win at Washington marked the third consecutive season in which the Rangers opened the playoffs with a road victory (they won at Atlanta in 2007 and at New Jersey in 2008, and went on to capture both series).

In contrast, Philadelphia's 4-1 loss at Pittsburgh in their series opener marked the sixth consecutive time the Flyers have dropped a series opener -- they lost all three series openers last season while advancing to the Eastern Conference Final. Only the Phoenix Coyotes/Winnipeg Jets franchise has a longer current streak -- seven consecutive Game 1 losses. The Coyotes/Jets haven't won a series opener since beating Vancouver 3-2 to start the 1993 Smythe Division Semifinals -- a series they lost in seven games after winning three of the first four.
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