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Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - Boston vs. Montreal
By Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 54-19-9 (1st seed, East)
2014 PLAYOFFS: Defeated Detroit 4-1 in conference quarterfinals.
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Boston Bruins entered the playoffs as such a heavy favorite to repeat as Eastern Conference champions that a Game 1 loss to Detroit was enough to cause a commotion.
Of course, the Bruins rebounded from that 1-0 home loss against the Red Wings to win the series in five games, restoring Boston's image as the team to beat in the East.
As expected, Boston won its opening round series by doing what it does best: stopping the other team from putting the puck in the net. The Bruins allowed Detroit to score only six times over the five games, while Boston managed to put up 14 goals of its own.
As usual, the 2013-14 Presidents' Trophy winners received outstanding goaltending from Tuukka Rask, who is a finalist for this season's Vezina Trophy. Rask stopped a 146-of-152 shots sent his way by Detroit in the opening round for an amazing save percentage of .961 and a minuscule goals against average of 1.16.
Looming large in front of Rask is Boston's uniquely talented defenseman Zdeno Chara, who at 6-foot-9 is the biggest player in league history. He also serves as the captain and unquestioned leader of a team that puts defense first and foremost.
Chara, the 2009 Norris Trophy winner, is up for the league's top defenseman award again in 2013-14. The Slovakian blueliner blends his immense size with tremendous skill and gives Bruins head coach Claude Julien a weapon his contemporaries can only dream about.
Logging over 25 minutes of ice time per game in the opening round, Chara also notched two goals -- both power-play tallies -- to help Boston's offense against the Red Wings.
Thanks to his role in helping the Bruins win their first Stanley Cup since the days of Bobby Orr in 2011, Chara is obviously a beloved figure in Boston. The exact opposite is true in Montreal, however, so get used to hearing boos every time the big man touches the puck at the Bell Centre.
While Chara will be the center of attention, a pair of young defensemen -- Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug -- provide most of Boston's offensive punch from the back end. Krug led Boston's blue line with five points (1 goal, 4 assists) in Round 1, while Hamilton added a goal and three assists.
Like Chara and Rask, Boston's best all-around forward also could win a postseason award after the season as Patrice Bergeron is one of three finalists for the Selke Trophy, which is given annually to the league's top defensive forward.
Bergeron, who won the Selke in 2012, not only provided terrific defense for his club in the opening round, but also tied Krug for the team lead with five points on a goal and four assists.
Physical forward Milan Lucic garnered headlines for a spearing incident in Game 1 against Detroit, but by the end of the series the burly winger earned the spotlight for all the right reasons. Lucic posted a team-high three goals in the opening round, giving him 25 career postseason markers.
Jarome Iginla turned in two goals and two assists in his first postseason series with the club. Iginla was a longtime member of the Calgary Flames, who he helped make a surprise run to the Cup Finals in 2004, and the 36-year-old is hoping to get back to the final round with the Bruins in 2014 after being on the losing end of a series against Boston last spring.
Iginla, of course, turned down a trade offer to Boston at the deadline in 2013 and joined the Pittsburgh Penguins instead. However, after the B's swept the Pens in the conference finals last year, Iginla opted to sign a one-year, $6 million deal with Boston in the offseason. He has 34 goals and 31 assists over 74 career playoff games.
All told, the Bruins had 10 players score in the first round, but only Chara, Iginla and Lucic had multiple goals.
The power play has been a trouble spot for the Bruins in recent years, but the club was third in the league during the regular season with a 21.7-percent success rate on the man advantage. Boston improved that percentage in the opening round, scoring six times on 16 chances (37.5 percent) with the man advantage.
The Bruins only allowed Detroit to score twice on its 20 power-play opportunities.
On the injury front, Boston forward Daniel Paille has been cleared to return after missing the entire first round with a concussion. Paille had nine goals and nine assists over 72 games with the Bruins in 2013-14.
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 46-28-8 (3rd place, Atlantic)
2014 PLAYOFFS: Defeated Tampa Bay 4-0 in conference quarterfinals
Montreal ranked 21st in the NHL in scoring during the 2013-14 campaign, but hitting the back of the net was not a problem for the Habs in their opening- round sweep of Tampa Bay.
The Canadiens scored an average of 2.55 goals per game in the regular season, but scored 16 times in just four contests against the Lightning.
The scoring barrage in Round 1 was obviously a welcome sight for Montreal, but maintaining that pace against the stingy Bruins is a tall order. After all, the Habs did take advantage of a Tampa Bay team that was without No. 1 goaltender Ben Bishop. With Boston heading into this series healthy, the Canadiens will have to prove their newly-found offensive prowess all over again.
The Canadiens had 10 skaters -- all forwards -- register a goal in the opening round. Brendan Gallagher and Rene Bourque led the way with three markers apiece, while Lars Eller and Max Pacioretty each had two goals over the four games.
Pacioretty, who led Montreal with 39 goals during the regular season, is part of a deadly top line for the Habs. The unit includes centerman David Desharnais and fellow winger Thomas Vanek, who was acquired at the trade deadline to boost the Canadiens' scoring prowess.
Vanek was dealt from Buffalo to the New York Islanders earlier this season before getting flipped to the Habs in March. Although Vanek is set to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end, the superb chemistry displayed between him, Desharnais and Pacioretty could be enough to get the Austrian to stay with Montreal beyond this spring.
A proven sniper, Vanek only had one goal in the opening round but he finished with three points over the four games. In 22 games with Montreal over the regular season and playoffs, Vanek has recorded seven goals and 11 assists.
Montreal's top line will likely need to be a force again in the second round in order for the team to solve the Bruins' defense. That could be a tough task with the likes of Bergeron, Chara and Rask all suiting up for Boston.
Habs forward Alex Galchenyuk has been sidelined since April 9 with a knee injury, but he could be ready to return at some point during this series. Whether Galchenyuk will be ready for Game 1 is unclear at this point. The 20- year-old American has a goal and two assists in five career playoff games, all of which came in last spring's first-round loss against Ottawa.
Like Boston, the Habs' true strength lies in the club's defense and goaltending. P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov draw the most minutes on Montreal's blue line, while Team Canada starter Carey Price is the undisputed No. 1 option between the pipes.
Subban, who normally skates with Josh Gorges, had a strong showing in Round 1 against Tampa Bay. Last year's Norris Trophy winner recorded five assists over four games and was second to Markov on the team with an average ice time of 26 minutes, 5 seconds per game. Gorges added two assists in the series.
Markov averaged 27:09 of ice time per game in Round 1, but didn't register a point over the four tilts. The 35-year-old Russian has three goals and 16 assists over 58 career playoff games. Markov skates primarily with countryman Alexei Emelin, who provides a formidable physical presence at the back end. Emelin chipped in two assists in the four games against Tampa in the conference quarterfinals.
Therrien used his third pairing sparingly against the Lightning. Mike Weaver logged 14:41 of action per game and Francis Bouillon received just under 14 minutes (13:57) of ice time in Round 1.
Price did not earn a Vezina Trophy finalist spot this season, but the 26-year- old is coming off one of his finest campaigns. In addition to anchoring Team Canada to a gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Price went 34-20-5 over 59 games this season and set career bests in both GAA (2.32) and save percentage (.927).
The playoffs have been a struggle for Price, however, as he owns a 2.82 GAA and .905 save percentage over 34 career postseason appearances with the Habs. He had a .904 save percentage and a 2.33 GAA in the four meetings with Tampa in Round 1.
Montreal went 2-for-13 on the power play in the sweep of Tampa and allowed the Lightning to score twice on seven chances with the man advantage in that series. The Habs ranked fourth in the league in penalty killing during the regular season and were 19th on the power play.
The Bruins will meet an Original Six rival for the second straight round. However, while Boston's series against Detroit marked the first postseason encounter between the clubs since 1957, the B's and Habs are the NHL's most common playoff foes.
This series will mark the 34th playoff battle between Boston and Montreal. The only other postseason matchup that even comes close is the 23 series between Toronto and the Red Wings.
The Canadiens have won 24 of the 33 series, but much of that postseason dominance came in the earlier part of the rivalry. Boston has won two straight and six of the last nine series between the clubs.
The last postseason meeting came in the 2011 Eastern Conference quarterfinals which Boston won in seven games. The Bruins posted a 4-3 overtime win in Game 7 of that postseason clash and later went on to beat Vancouver in seven games to deliver Boston's first Stanley Cup title since 1972.
Although the Bruins are the favorites to come out of the East, this is not an easy matchup for the defending conference champs. Montreal won three of four meetings against Boston in 2013-14 and the Habs have claimed six of the past seven encounters overall.
The Canadiens also enter this series on a four-game winning streak in Boston and with the Bruins holding home-ice advantage in this set, Montreal will have to keep that road success going to win this series.
Price only played in one game versus Boston this season and picked up the win, stopping 32-of-33 shots to help Montreal record a 2-1 home victory on Dec. 5. He is 17-8-3 with a 2.50 GAA and .919 save percentage in 29 career regular- season games against Boston.
Rask was 1-2-1 against Montreal in 2013-14 despite posting excellent numbers during the series with a 1.94 GAA and .932 save percentage. He is 3-10-3 with a 2.63 GAA and .908 save percentage over 17 regular-season tilts in this matchup.
Both of these teams put defense first and that could lead to some close battles in this series. In the end, expect the Bruins to overcome their regular-season struggles against Montreal and return to the Eastern Conference finals.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Bruins in 7
04/30 13:26:17 ET