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Bruins, Habs renew storied playoff rivalry
(SportsNetwork.com) - One of the NHL's oldest and fiercest rivalries will be on display in Round 2 of the playoffs, as the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens meet in the postseason for the 34th time.
The Eastern Conference semifinal matchup begins in Boston on Thursday, when the top-seeded Bruins aim for an early lead in the best-of-seven clash with the Canadiens.
Both teams enter Thursday's Game 1 with ample rest, as Montreal hasn't played since completing a sweep of Tampa Bay on April 22 while the Bruins ended their opening series with Detroit in the fifth meeting on Saturday.
The Bruins are facing 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 series 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 against Boston, but much of that postseason dominance came in the earlier part of the rivalry. The Bruins have won two straight and six of the last nine series between the clubs.
"It's always going to be a little bit harder than other series because it's Montreal, and the emotions are high, so it's pretty easy to get out of your element," said Bruins forward David Krejci.
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.
Game 2 of this series is scheduled for Saturday afternoon in Boston.
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.
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.
All told, the Bruins had 10 players score in the first round, but only star defenseman Zdeno Chara and forwards Jarome Iginla and Milan Lucic had multiple goals. Lucic led that group with three markers, while Chara and Iginla each scored twice.
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, who had nine goals and nine assists over 72 games with the Bruins in 2013-14, could enter the lineup in Game 1.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
05/01 10:34:01 ET