Bruins-Canadiens: Who has the edge?
BOSTON – After serving as the whipping boys for a long, long time, the Boston Bruins have turned the tables on the Montreal Canadiens when it comes to their playoff meetings. It’s the 34th all-time playoff showdown between the B’s and the Habs, but the Bruins have taken two of the past three series since Claude Julien took control of the Boston bench seven years ago.
Still, it’s been a recent uphill battle for the Black and Gold. They've losing six of their past seven regular-season games against the Canadiens, while getting overwhelmed at times by Montreal’s speed and skill. The regular season doesn’t always translate into the postseason and the Bruins were essentially built for long playoff battles, but there’s a nagging suspicion this series will go the distance.
So, with the Bruins and Canadiens set to lock in for a long, heated playoff battle, here’s a category-by-category breakdown of the Bruins/Habs matchup:
The Habs feature natural goal scorers in Max Pacioretty (39 goals) and Thomas Vanek (27 goals), and have pretty good complimentary players in David Desharnais, Brendan Gallagher, Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec. Rene Bourque and Lars Eller really came alive to show Montreal had a legit third line, and Daniel Briere is a forward that’s always been dangerous against the Bruins in the playoffs. They are fast and skilled, but also undersized compared to the Bruins. There’s also the simple fact that Desharnais and Plekanec don’t match up will down the middle against David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron in overall center play. Plekanec has done well holding down Krejci in the past (held him to one point in the 2011 playoff series), but Desharnais won’t be able to slow down Bergeron at full strength. Big bodies like Milan Lucic, Jarome Iginla, Carl Soderberg and Justin Florek should be able to wear down the Habs defensemen over the course of a long series, but this is a classic speed vs. strength matchup. Edge: slight to Boston.
Zdeno Chara is a one man defensive force for the Bruins unlike anything Montreal has on their roster, but he’s also been routinely beaten by Thomas Vanek throughout his career. Johnny Boychuk is a veteran warrior, and young blueliners like Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski give Boston a little needed speed and offense in the transition game. Kevan Miller could be a big factor in this series given the kind of raw, brute strength he brings to the table while also skating well for a stay-at-home defenseman. Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban, Alexei Emelin and Josh Gorges are a talented, formidable veteran top-four defensemen group, and Mike Weaver and Francis Bouillon were a plus-10 in short minutes as the bottom defense pairing. It would be a mistake for the Habs to play Douglas Murray in this series, but they may do that given the size/strength problems that Carl Soderberg could pose. The six goals allowed by the Bruins to Detroit were the fewest given up in a playoff series that went at least five games since 1939. It also may only take Milan Lucic a few games to put Emelin into the Mike Komisarek House of Horrors during this series. Edge: Canadiens, which would be a push if Dennis Seidenberg were healthy.
Tuukka Rask leads all NHL goalies with a .961 save percentage and a 1.16 goals against average during the first round of the playoffs, and has already proven he can take a team to the Stanley Cup Final. He wasn’t tested much against Detroit, however, as they couldn’t fight to get to the front of the net. Carey Price had a 2.33 goals against average and a .904 save percentage against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and was routinely lifted in favor of Peter Budaj vs. Boston during the regular season. Rask has a career 3-10-3 record in 17 appearances vs. Montreal with a 2.63 GAA, .908 save percentage and one shutout. He has never beaten the Habs at TD Garden (0-4-3, 3.35 GAA, .833 save percentage) during the regular season. These are all interesting numbers for the Bruins/Canadiens matchup, but it’s as much a reflection on the bad defense played in front of Rask vs. Montreal than anything else. Edge: Bruins by a thin margin.
The Canadiens were 19th in power-play success rate, and ranked fourth among NHL teams while killing 85.1 percent of the power plays they faced during the regular season. Players like P.K. Subban, Thomas Vanek and Max Pacioretty are dynamite offensive players on the PP, but this isn’t the vaunted Habs power play team of yesteryear. The Boston Bruins, on the other hand, utilized young defensemen Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton to revitalize their power play unit this season, and tanked third among all NHL teams after long trotting out an atrocious power play. Zdeno Chara has been a difference-maker camped in front of the net, and the Bruins penalty kill ranked 8th in the NHL with an 83.7 percent kill rate. Chris Kelly will be missing from the PK unit for the B’s, but they still managed to hold the Red Wings power play to a 2-for-20 performance in the first round. Edge: Bruins, who also have the advantage in five-on-five play over Montreal.
Claude Julien has built an impressive program in Boston that relies on discipline, intelligence, hard work, depth and players willing to fully buy into his two-way system. The power play was always the bane of Julien’s existence in Boston, and even that has turned into a giant strength for the Black and Gold. Claude Julien has steered the Bruins into the playoffs in all seven years in Boston, has won a Jack Adams Award in his time with the Bruins, is second on their all-time coaching win list, has won a Stanley Cup and has brought Boston to the Cup Final in two of the last three years. Michel Therrien has done none of those things during his career with the Habs and the Penguins, and runs his Montreal hockey club based on fear and arrogance. Nobody in Boston will ever forget his throat-slashing gesture while on the bench during the 2001-02 playoffs. Therrien also looks like one of the bad guys from Rocky IV when Sylvester Stallone when to Russia to fight Ivan Drago, so there’s that. Edge: Bruins.
As mentioned in my Stanley Cup playoff preview, where I predicted this matchup, I say the Bruins will defeat the Habs in seven games. Because these two teams always seem to go seven games in their playoff series vs. each other.