Published April 14, 2011
You just knew this was going to happen.
Ever since mid-season, with the Boston Bruins in the third slot and the Montreal Canadiens securely ensconced as the sixth seed, a collision course has been charted.
The series marks the 33rd time these two venerable rivals will see each other in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the third time in the last four seasons. The only Original Six playoff matchup in this year’s first round will again have fans of both cities perched on the edge of their seats — scowling.
This year there’s more animosity than in previous years. Boston is 2-3-1 against the Habs this year in six contests, but Game 5 at Montreal’s Bell Centre was the one that really set off the fireworks.
In case you’ve forgotten, Zdeno Chara finished his check of Max Pacioretty into the stanchion that separates the team benches in the Bell Centre. The hit launched a firestorm, as fans of the Canadiens thought Chara intended to injure their man, while Boston fans thought otherwise. There was no way anyone was going to change those opinions.
The NHL thought it was a “hockey play” and ruled accordingly. No matter what, it still comes back to the Bruins and Canadiens in a seven-game series to open the 2011 playoffs tonight at the TD Garden.
For the Bruins, it really is plain and simple: stay out of the penalty box. This cannot be stressed enough. The Canadiens’ power play was ranked eighth in the league this season and their speed can minimize the Boston penalty kill, which was ranked 16th on the year.
The Habs have two defensemen that can bring it and bring it hard. James Wiesnewski and P.K. Subban have rockets at the point and the Montreal forwards know how to set them up to blast from the blue line and closer.
The Boston power play hasn’t been a mystery to any NHL club — there seems not to be much to it. They try to set up shots from the point, but for most of the year the shots were blocked and the puck was cleared. There needs to be some creativity added and the forwards need to control the puck and get it into the slot to get quality shots from 20 feet or closer. But really, I don’t see that changing now, so we’ll see what happens.
Bruins goalie Tim Thomas will certainly have to be at his best. His struggles against Montreal have been well-chronicled and now is the time to turn that around. He has shown he should be the Bruins goalie in net night after night. Without consistency from him, Boston will be in trouble.
All season, the system that coach Claude Julien employs has kept the Bruins in third place and that system should not change. It will be defense first, to move the puck out of their defensive zone and create good offensive opportunities. Everyone knows, and must play, their role for Boston to have success against a highly skilled and fast Canadiens team.
The border war begins and the teams and their fans really don’t like each other. As usual with these two teams, things should be interesting.