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Canadiens, Bruins are NHL's longest playoff rivalry

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 playoffs. It only seems that way.

On Thursday night, the Habs and B's faced off to start their 33nd playoff series, by far the most of any two teams in NHL history -- Toronto and Detroit are a distant second with 23, though none since 1993. But unlike the Leafs and Wings, who've played each other evenly (the Leafs lead 12-11), the Canadiens generally have owned the Bruins over the years, winning 24 of their 32 meetings -- although Boston swept the last meeting in the first round two years ago.

No other team has beaten another in playoff competition more than 12 times (Toronto against Detroit; Montreal and Boston against Chicago). The Canadiens have won twice that many against Boston -- including 18 in a row, beginning with the 1946 Final and extending through the Adams Division semifinal 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 won three of four meetings in the 2000s (2002, '04 and '08; losing in 2009). Including Thursday's 1-0 win by the Canadiens in Boston, the teams have played 164 games, with Montreal winning 100.

Out of sight, out of mind -- In contrast to their seemingly annual meetings, neither the Bruins nor the Canadiens have seen much of their other four Original Six rivals in the playoffs.

The last time the Bruins saw an Original Six team other than Montreal was in 1978, when they swept Chicago in the quarterfinals. Boston hasn't played Toronto since 1974, the Rangers since 1973 and Detroit since 1957.

The Canadiens last faced the Rangers in 1996, losing their first-round series in six games. But they haven't seen the other three Original Six teams since the late 1970s -- they beat Toronto in 1979, Detroit in 1978 and Chicago in 1976.

Opening-night blues -- Despite getting 32 shots on Roberto Luongo, the Chicago Blackhawks became the newest member of the "defending champs lose their playoff opener the next year" club.

The Hawks lost 2-0 at Vancouver on Wednesday night, making them the sixth team in the last seven tries (over eight seasons) to lose its first playoff game as defending champion. Since 2003, when the defending champion Detroit Red Wings lost to Anaheim, only the 2009 Wings (against Columbus) have won their playoff opener. New Jersey (2004, to Philadelphia), Tampa Bay (2006, to Ottawa), Anaheim (2008, to Dallas) and Pittsburgh (2009, to Ottawa) all lost their first playoff game as champion.

The 2007 Carolina Hurricanes didn't have the chance to defy the jinx -- they didn't qualify for the playoffs.

Ruff going -- Lindy Ruff seems to have a knack when leading the Buffalo Sabres into Game 1 away from home. Thursday's 1-0 victory was the Sabres' ninth in 11 games under Ruff when they've opened a series on the road.

And while winning Game 1 is never a guarantee of victory, history is now with the Sabres -- Buffalo and Philadelphia are meeting for the ninth time in the playoffs, and the team that won the opener has won each of the first eight series.

Finding his touch -- Alexander Semin was a major reason the Washington Capitals rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the New York Rangers in the first round of the 2009 playoffs -- he had 5 goals, including one in Washington's 2-1 win in Game 7. Maybe all he needed to find his playoff scoring touch was another shot at the Rangers.

Semin went 14 postseason games -- seven against Pittsburgh in 2009 and seven against Montreal last year -- without scoring a goal. But with the Rangers providing the opposition in the series-opener on Wednesday, Semin rocketed a shot past Henrik Lundqvist in overtime to give the Caps a 2-1 win.

Wing men -- Nicklas Lidstrom almost can't help but make playoff history every time he steps onto the ice.

Lidstrom began his 19th playoff season on Wednesday night when he helped the Detroit Red Wings beat the Phoenix Coyotes 4-2 in the opener of their first-round series. Lidstrom joined former teammate Brett Hull as the only players who've taken part in 19 playoff years; Larry Robinson owns the NHL record with 20.

Lidstrom also played his 248th postseason game on Wednesday night, breaking a tie for second place with Patrick Roy. If the Wings get all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, he can pass former teammate Chris Chelios for the all-time record at 266.

Lidstrom didn't have a point on Wednesday, but teammate Johan Franzen did, scoring a goal and adding an assist. Franzen now has points in his last 10 series-openers and has scored goals in nine of those games. The last time he didn't get a point while playing the first game of a playoff series was 2007, when he went scoreless in the first game of the Western Conference Finals against Anaheim.

Wrong opponent -- Detroit's series against Phoenix is the only rematch from last season -- and the Coyotes might have preferred another opponent.

The Wings have won all three playoff series with the Coyotes/Winnipeg Jets franchise; beating the Coyotes again will make the Wings one of only four teams with a 4-0 record against an opponent in playoff competition -- including Detroit's 4-0 mark against Dallas.

The Jets/Coyotes own the most losses of any team against another -- they dropped all six playoff series against Edmonton while based in Winnipeg.
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