Montreal Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin has only played 164 regular-season games in the NHL, the equivalent of exactly two full seasons stretched out over three years, and in that time he has become a central figure in his team's heated rivalry with the Boston Bruins.
Though defenseman P.K. Subban is the one who gets booed every time he touches the puck at TD Garden, or any time he does just about anything for that matter, it is in fact Emelin that has successfully managed to drive the Bruins to fits of distraction over his short career.
Emelin has done so by going toe-to-toe with Boston's most physical forces, captain Zdeno Chara and power forward Milan Lucic, and not backing down once.
A perfect example of what Emelin has the ability to do to the Bruins happened on March 3, 2013 when he hit Tyler Seguin near center ice late in the second period of a game Boston led 3-2 at TD Garden. Chara didn't like the hit, chased Emelin deep into the Canadiens zone and engaged him in a fight.
For his trouble, Chara received two minutes for instigating, five minutes for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct. By the time the Bruins captain left the penalty box midway through the third period, the Canadiens turned that 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead, one they would not relinquish.
That victory began a stretch of six wins in seven games for the Canadiens against the Bruins heading into their Eastern Conference Second Round series, and Emelin has played an important role in nearly all of them.
It is one thing not to back down when confronted with the physically intimidating game the Bruins have perfected; it is quite another to turn it on its head and actually go out looking for trouble, or poking the bear, as it were.
That is exactly what Emelin has done whenever the Canadiens have faced the Bruins over the past few seasons, and it has worked to great effectiveness in that the Bruins appear to shift their focus from winning the game to getting even with him.
The last time the Canadiens played the Bruins was March 24 in Boston, when Emelin laid out Lucic with a clean, open-ice hip check that sent the massive Bruins forward head over heels and sprawling into the boards about a minute into the game. Emelin was immediately challenged by Chara, who was assessed the only penalty on the play, and later in the game Lucic was caught on video putting his stick between Emelin's legs as he skated behind him.
The Canadiens' best chance of beating the mighty Bruins in the series is to frustrate them to distraction. As much as Subban has proven to be an expert at it over the years, Emelin has taken over that job and has performed it to perfection.