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Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - Boston vs. Montreal
By Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor
BOSTON BRUINS (3rd seed, East)

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 46-25-11

2010 PLAYOFFS: Defeated Buffalo 4-2 in conference quarterfinals; lost to Philadelphia 4-3 in conference semifinals

REVIEW: The Boston Bruins know the best way to erase the memory of last year's embarrassing playoff collapse is to lift Lord Stanley's Cup this spring.

But first, the B's will have to get past one of their fiercest rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, in the opening round.

Up three games to none against Philadelphia in the second round of last year's postseason, Boston was poised to advance to the Eastern Conference finals before the unthinkable happened. The Flyers won four straight games to become just the third team in NHL history to win a series after falling behind 3-0 and the first to do so since the 1975 New York Islanders.

Of course, nobody expects the Bruins to suffer another collapse of that historic nature in these playoffs, but it is important that Boston moves past that meltdown with a good start to this postseason.

The biggest difference between the 2010-11 Bruins and last year's club is that goaltender Tim Thomas in once again healthy and back to his Vezina Trophy- winning form.

After being named the NHL's top goaltender two years ago, Thomas battled hip injuries in 2009-10, causing him to post a 17-18-8 record and lose his starting job to rookie Tuukka Rask. This year, Thomas was 35-11-7 with nine shutouts and a sparkling 2.00 goals-against average. The 38-year-old also set an NHL record with a .938 save percentage, beating former Buffalo netminder Dominik Hasek's mark of .937 from the 1998-99 campaign.

However, Rask struggled this year, posting an 11-14-2 record and a 2.67 GAA in his sophomore campaign. Still, he offers a solid second option should something happen to Thomas.

Of course, Thomas has one of the league's most feared defenseman playing in front of him in Zdeno Chara, the 6-foot-9 Slovakian with the hardest slap shot in the world.

Chara won the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman in 2009 and he could be a finalist for the award this year after posting 14 goals, 44 points and a plus-33 rating this season.

"Big Z" always hears boos when he visits Montreal, but the derision could reach an all-time high in this series. Chara managed to make himself even more unpopular in Montreal after he drilled Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty into a stanchion near the benches on March 8. That infamous hit, and the fact that it didn't warrant a suspension for Chara, will add some juice to an already heated rivalry.

In addition to Chara, the Bruins also have Dennis Seidenberg and Tomas Kaberle to generate offense from the back end. Seidenberg was second among Boston blueliners with 32 points (7 goals, 25 assists) and Kaberle, who was acquired before the trade deadline from Toronto, had one goal and eight assists in 24 games with the Bruins. Kaberle had 47 points (4g, 43a) in 82 total games this season.

Johnny Boychuk, who had three goals and 13 assists this year, will also see significant minutes on Boston's blue line.

With the presence of Thomas and their star defenseman Chara at the back end, it's easy to look past the Bruins' offense, which finished eighth in the league with 246 goals this season. And that was without the services of the club's top playmaker, Marc Savard, for all but 25 games. Savard, of course, is out for the rest of the season with a potentially career-threatening concussion.

Boston had four players with 20 or more goals this season and seven of the club's forwards had 40 or more points. Milan Lucic led the team with a career- high 30 goals and he was tied for the club lead in points with David Krejci, who paced the club with 49 assists.

Patrice Bergeron was third on the team with 57 points and he also could be a finalist for the Selke Trophy as one of the league's top defensive forwards.

Nathan Horton was second on the team with 26 goals in his first season as a Bruin. Horton was acquired in a trade with Florida at last summer's draft.

Brad Marchand also recorded 21 goals and 20 assists this season to outperform fellow rookie Tyler Seguin, who had just 11 goals and 11 helpers after being picked second overall by Boston at the 2010 draft.

Despite Chara's heavy shot from the point and a solid group of forwards, the Bruins' power play was ranked 20th in the NHL this year. Boston was 16th in the league in penalty killing.

MONTREAL CANADIENS (6th seed, East)

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 44-30-8

2010 PLAYOFFS: Defeated Washington 4-3 in conference quarterfinals; defeated Pittsburgh 4-3 in conference semifinals; lost to Philadelphia 4-1 in conference finals

REVIEW: Montreal made a surprising run to the Eastern Conference finals as an eighth seed last year. The Canadiens will try to recreate some of that magic this spring, but they'll have to do so without the club's biggest hero from the 2010 postseason.

The Canadiens rode goaltender Jaroslav Halak to a pair of series wins last spring before the Habs fell to Philadelphia in five games during the conference finals. But, despite Halak's amazing postseason he was traded over the summer to the St. Louis Blues, leaving the crease to Carey Price.

Montreal general manager Bob Gainey is now given credit for sticking with Price, but the trade was a scary one for Habs fans at first. After all, Price had a nightmarish 2009-10 season that saw him go 12-30-5 with a 2.77 goals- against average and nobody wanted to hear that he was younger or came with a much better pedigree than Halak.

The 23-year-old Price, who was the fifth overall selection in the 2005 draft, reward his club's confidence in him this season, posting a 38-28-6 record while playing in 72 games. Price tied Vancouver's Roberto Luongo for the league lead in wins, while also setting personal bests in GAA (2.35), save percentage (.923) and shutouts (8).

However, Price still has to prove he can get it done in the postseason. In 19 career playoff games, he has a 5-11 record to go with a 3.17 GAA and .894 save percentage.

On defense, the Canadiens are led by P.K. Subban, who was technically a rookie this year despite playing a big role in Montreal's playoff run last spring. Subban had played in just two games at the NHL level before injuries at the blueline forced him into regular playing time last postseason. Instead of floundering, Subban flourished with one goal and seven assists in 14 postseason games.

The 21-year-old Subban kept up the good work this season, leading Montreal's blue line in both goals (14) and points (38).

But, just like last year, injuries on defense are once again a concern for the Habs.

Once considered Montreal's best all-around defenseman, Andrei Markov has barely been able to stay on the ice over the last year. The 32-year-old was limited to just eight playoff games last spring due to injuries, but that was more than he played this regular season, as he managed to skate in just seven games before suffering a season-ending injury to his right knee in November.

Fellow blueliner Josh Gorges was possibly Montreal's best shutdown defenseman, but he will also miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury sustained in December.

Even with those injuries, the Canadiens still boast solid veterans Hal Gill, Roman Hamrlik, Jaroslav Spacek and James Wisniewski at the back end. Hamrlik had 34 points in 79 games, while Wisniewski notched seven goals and 23 assists in 43 games after coming over in a trade with the New York Islanders.

Offense is the real problem spot for Montreal, as the club finished 24th in the league with 216 goals.

The Canadiens had just one player over 50 points this season, as Tomas Plekanec led the club with 57 points on 22 goals and 35 assists. Captain Brian Gionta led the club with 29 goals and had 46 total points while playing in all 82 games.

Andrei Kostitsyn was the only other Montreal skater to reach 20 goals this year, as he notched 20 markers and 25 assists.

Montreal's best offensive weapon in last year's playoffs was Mike Cammalleri, who tied a club record goals in a single postseason with 13. However, Cammalleri, who notched 26 goals during the 2009-10 season, managed just 19 tallies in 67 games this year.

Scott Gomez also had a disappointing regular season after a strong contribution during last year's playoffs. Gomez was third on the club with 14 points (2g, 12a) in the 2010 postseason, but he managed just seven goals and 31 assists in 80 games this year.

The Canadiens will also be without Pacioretty for the series, as the winger has not played since suffering a severe concussion and a cracked vertebra on the hit by Chara. Pacioretty had a career-high 14 goals in just 37 games before suffering the injury.

Habs centerman Jeff Halpern, who had 11 goals and 15 assists this season, is also suffering from a lower body injury and is questionable for Game 1.

Despite an overall lack of scoring, Montreal did have a solid power play unit in 2010-11, ranking eighth in the league on the man advantage. The Canadiens also had the league's seventh-best penalty kill.

MATCHUP
No two teams have faced off against each other more times in the NHL playoffs than the Bruins and Canadiens, who are meeting in the postseason for an amazing 33rd time this spring.

Of course, the storied Montreal franchise holds the upper hand in the all-time series, having won 24 of the series. However, Boston has claimed five of the last eight series and swept the Habs in four games when the clubs last met in the 2009 Eastern Conference quarters.

Although Boston won the Northeast Division by seven points over Montreal, the Canadiens did claim this year's season series with four wins in the six encounters.

However, the Bruins slammed a visiting Montreal club by a 7-0 score when the clubs last met on March 24. Boston notched eight goals in its other win over the Canadiens this season, defeating the Habs by an 8-6 score on Feb. 9.

Thomas was 2-1-1 with a shutout and a 3.21 GAA against the Canadiens this year. Price was 4-2-0 with a 3.45 GAA while starting all six games versus Boston.

Lucic led Boston with four goals and nine points against Montreal this year, while Horton, Krejci and Bergeron each had seven points. Pacioretty and Gionta paced the Canadiens in the season series with six points apiece.

On paper this seems like a fairly easy first-round series for the Bruins, but when rivals of this caliber meet in the playoffs, things tend to even out a bit. The Chara-Pacioretty scandal can only help to bring the bad blood to a boil in what should be a physical series.

Still, the Bruins have the superior offense as well as the edge between the pipes and that will be enough for them to weather the storm against a hated rival.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Bruins in 6


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