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B's, Habs renew rivalry with division lead at stake

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL – The longtime rivalry between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens has seen the two clubs engage in some heated battles in the past couple of years, even if they weren't particularly close in the standings.

But when the first round of the rivalry this season begins Wednesday night, not only will there be pride on the line, but the lead in the Northeast Division will be up for grabs as well.

Not surprisingly, the Bruins are off to an excellent start with a 6-1-1 record, but the Canadiens are nipping at their heels at 6-2-0, adding a tiny bit of spice to what was already a highly-anticipated contest.

"They're first in the East right now, and we have to take the opportunity at hand," Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty said after practice Tuesday. "I know people can say we'll only be nine games into the year, but it's only a 48-game year, so this is a huge opportunity for us and I think it will show a lot about our team in the way we prepare for this game and the way we play."

Pacioretty was one of the few members of the Canadiens who was actually willing to admit Tuesday that the game against the Bruins is perhaps a little more important than the other ones on the schedule. The vibe was similar in the Bruins' dressing room after their practice at Bell Centre later in the day.

"It's going to be an important game, because we all know the next game is always the most important one so we've got to concentrate on that," Boston center Patrice Bergeron said. "There's so much history behind the rivalry that started decades before I ever got in the League, so to be part of it is something very special and something I take pride in. It's always great games against them."


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When asked whether the impact on the standings could have any influence on the type of game played Wednesday evening, Bruins center Tyler Seguin appeared genuinely surprised to hear the question, saying no one had brought that up to him until then.

"We know Montreal's had a good start and we have as well," he said. "So it's two good teams going at it, but it's been the same way for the last few years. I'm not expecting anything different."

Indeed, no matter the situation, these two teams play competitive hockey games.

Over the past two seasons, the Canadiens and Bruins have been separated in the standings by a combined 31 points, but the series between the two clubs was deadlocked with each side compiling a 6-5-1 record against the other. The Canadiens scored 32 goals against the Bruins in those 12 games, while Boston scored 35.

So although the Canadiens are a much-improved club thus far this season, there was no way the Bruins would be taking them lightly in any case.

"It's a new team and I think they have a lot of talent," Bergeron said. "They've had a great start, and obviously we're aware of that."

New general manager Marc Bergevin made some additions to the club that appeared from the outside to be geared towards allowing the Canadiens to better compete with the physical brand of hockey the Bruins employ. Some toughness and grit was added in the form of Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong and Francis Bouillon, while the emergence of rookies Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher has vastly improved the depth among the forwards.

"Boston for the last couple of years has been the model team that other teams want to build off of," Pacioretty said. "We went out and got toughness, we went out and got secondary scoring, and that's been Boston's motto the last couple of years. So I think we match up with them a lot better now, and tomorrow's going to be a big test for us."

Then there's the health factor -- the return of a healthy defenseman Andrei Markov has a big influence on the strength and depth of the Canadiens' defense.

"So far we look like we have good chemistry on the team," said Markov, who leads the Canadiens in ice time and looks to have found the form he had prior to going through two years of rehabbing his injured right knee. "Everybody works hard, everybody tries to stay on the same page and play the same system. We're having fun out there, so we have to keep going and try to play even better."

Markov, normally very reserved in his comments, couldn't help but acknowledge that playing the Bruins is a bit different and that he's looking forward to his first taste of the rivalry since Nov. 11, 2010.

"Every game is important, especially in a short season," Markov said. "But everybody knows playing the games against Boston is always special. It's going to be fun tomorrow."

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