A marketing dream looks, at first blush, like a hockey nightmare for the Boston Bruins.
Yes, the first-round matchup that pits the Bruins against Original Six rival Montreal is full of storylines. Yes, the teams are among the bitterest adversaries around. Yes, they have met 30 other times in the playoffs. And, yes, this rivalry plays well on the national stage.
But it was a one-sided rivalry this season. Montreal won all eight regular-season games between the two Northeast Division foes, outscoring the Bruins by an impressive 39-16 margin.
To make matters even worse, the Habs have knocked Boston out of the playoffs the past two times the teams have met, and the all-time postseason series record is 23-7 in favor of Montreal.
“He does things with the puck you've never seen before. It just seems impossible what he does sometimes, but for him it's just like walking and chewing gum.” – Canadiens G Carey Price talking about Alexei Kovalev.
The Canadiens are the highest-scoring team in the League, netting 262 goals. Alex Kovalev, a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year, led the team with 35 goals, but nine players reached double digits. Kovalev's 84 points also were the high for a team that saw eight skaters top the 30-point plateau.
Part of the reason Montreal has been so successful is because of its efficiency on the power play. The Canadians led the League with a 24.2-percent conversion rate, and Kovalev, Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn, Chris Higgins and Andrei Markov all had at least 10 man-advantage goals.
Plus, the Canadiens have the karma of riding a rookie goalie into the postseason. Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy delivered Stanley Cups to Montreal in those same circumstances. Is it Carey Price's turn?
Boston certainly hopes not. But the Bruins will have to find a way to limit Montreal's hard-charging attack and give acrobatic goalie Tim Thomas the opportunity to work some of his patented magic.
"It's another challenge presented to this team. We haven't achieved the success to our liking against this team in the regular season. ..." – Bruins D Aaron Ward on playing the Canadiens
Boston also will have to find a way to score. In the regular-season series against Montreal, the Bruins only managed more than two goals in one of the eight contests.
Leading scorer Marc Savard, who had 78 points, missed the last seven games of the regular season, but is expected back for Game 1 on Thursday. Boston had just two players on its roster that topped 20 goals – Marco Sturm led the team with 27, while the streaky Chuck Kobasew had 22.
Boston did, however, have eight players reach the 30-point mark, including defensemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman.
Montreal will win if -- It can build up speed in the transition game. The Canadiens are blessed with a raft of fleet-footed forwards who, upon reaching full speed, can befuddle virtually any checking scheme. Boston does not have the horses on the blue line to get into foot races with Montreal's forwards.
Boston will win if -- It can stay out of the penalty box and give Tim Thomas a chance to shine. If you plan to upset the Canadiens this postseason, their power-play opportunities must be limited. This is a club that is good for a power play goal a game, which is huge in the postseason. If Boston can limit its times shorthanded, Thomas might just have a chance to put together a stretch of great games.