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Canadiens may be as deep up front as Bruins

by Arpon Basu

BROSSARD, Quebec -- The Boston Bruins have long been the gold standard when it comes to the depth of their forwards, something that has been at the root of much of their success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in recent years.

Several teams have attempted to replicate that blueprint. But in order to do so, it's imperative to find a way to replicate the volume of talent at the forward position the Bruins have boasted for many years.

The Montreal Canadiens believe they might have done just that.

In their first round sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien had nine forwards average at least 15 minutes of ice time per game, topping out at the 20:50 average of center Tomas Plekanec, who plays on the power play and penalty kill.

The Bruins had seven forwards average 15 minutes or more per game in their first-round victory against the Detroit Red Wings, with center David Krejci earning the most ice time at 20:11 over the five-game series. Boston's fourth line of Gregory Campbell, Jordan Caron and Shawn Thornton – the so-called "Merlot Line" because of the color of their practice jerseys – averaged fewer minutes per game than Montreal's Dale Weise, Daniel Briere and Michael Bournival in the first round.

"I think the Boston model of a team has been kind of the guideline for how teams want to build their teams for the last three or four years, having four lines that can play," Weise said. "Obviously we had good success in the first round, but I think Boston's a different story. We haven't proven anything against them yet, so we'll see. Hopefully our four lines can match up against theirs."

The most-recent time the Canadiens faced the Bruins in the playoffs was 2011, when a Nathan Horton goal in overtime of Game 7 won the series for Boston, paving the way towards a Stanley Cup. In that series, Horton's line with Milan Lucic and Krejci was not that big of a factor with four goals in seven games, three scored by Horton. It was Boston's depth that ultimately led the way back from a 2-0 series deficit going back to Montreal, though Canadiens captain Brian Gionta wouldn't necessarily agree.

"We lost in OT of Game 7 against Boston," Gionta said, "so I don't know how much of that was because of our depth."

Whether Gionta wants to admit it or not, it was Boston's depth of talent up front that made the difference in that series and allowed the Bruins to win four of the final five games. But the Canadiens may boast the same depth up front as Boston now, at least based on how well the top three lines performed in the first round of the playoffs.

"Depth is big," Canadiens center Lars Eller said. "Boston's depth has been shown to be very beneficial to them in the playoffs the last couple of years, just look at their track record. It's going to be one of the keys, and these two teams match up well against each other in that department."

Eller's line with Gionta and Rene Bourque led the Canadiens with six goals in four games in the first round, and Plekanec's line with Brendan Gallagher and Brandon Prust had five goals. Montreal's top line of David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and noted Bruins-killer Thomas Vanek had three goals, one more than Briere's fourth line.

The fact the Canadiens can use a player like Briere, one of the top playoff performers of all-time with 111 points in 112 career games, is a testament to the depth that's been developed and acquired by general manager Marc Bergevin since he was hired following the 2011-12 season.

"I think our bottom-six is really good," defenseman P.K. Subban said. "I think we've improved, we have some experience there, we have some depth there and that's helped our team. You could see it in the first round; that makes a huge difference. I think a lot of times those guys don't get the credit. The guys like Dale Weise, Travis Moen, Brandon Prust, those types of players … they don't always get the credit, but they've played big for us."

Moen will likely draw into the lineup in place of Bournival on the Briere line now that he has recovered from a concussion that kept him out of the first round, adding some beef to that line against the more physical Bruins.

As important as the Desharnais line will be to Montreal's chances of competing against Boston, that fourth line of Briere, Moen and Weise winning its matchup against Boston's "Merlot Line" might be just as big of a factor in the series.

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