In the end, it took a whole five games for the Bruins to rid themselves of the Detroit Red Wings, a team that many saw as a bad playoff matchup for the President’s Cup trophy winners.
What’s it ultimately going to take for Montreal?
In years past, the Bruins would be glued to the TV set in the wake of a 4-2, Game 5 win over Detroit, ending the quarterfinal playoff series at 4-1, waiting to see if they would face the Columbus Blue Jackets (3-1 losers Saturday against Pittsburgh, which took a 3-2 series lead) or the Flyers or Rangers (series tied at two heading into Sunday's Game 5) in the second round. That would have left the Canadiens duking it out with Philadelphia, New York, or Pittsburgh. But under the NHL’s new bracketology, the Habs, who swept the Lightning out of the first round, have been sitting and waiting for Boston since last Tuesday, with at least four more days to go. Realistically, they knew what most of us knew three games into the Detroit series: It was going to be Boston.
For the Bruins, this is much more difficult. For us, this is much more fun.
The only aspect to top the drama of a Bruins-Canadiens playoff series would be if it were for the conference crown one round later, but that would also prevent a Boston-Pittsburgh rematch, not to mention all the Jarome Iginlaness that would come along with it, from happening. What we have here is the best of both worlds. Step one. Step two. Bring on the Blackhawks.
"It's the fourth time now since 2008 that we faced them here in the playoffs,” said Bruins forward Milan Lucic, who scored his team-leading third goal of the playoffs in Saturday’s win, “first time that it isn't a first-round matchup, so another Original Six battle that we get to be a part of and a lot of hatred between the teams, the fans, the cities when it comes to this kind of rivalry, so we expect them to bring their best. We saw what they were able to do in the first series, and we got to be prepared to come out and elevate our game as the playoffs move on."
The Bruins were only 1-2-1 against the Canadiens during the regular season, but as we just saw against the Red Wings, you can take the cliché of the playoffs being a different season and a fresh start, to heart. The Bruins went 1-3 against Detroit this past season, then went and only outscored the Wings 14-6 over five playoff games.
“They’re a tough, tough, tough team to get to the net against,” Detroit’s Jonathan Franzen said. “They’ve done it so many years, they know how to win in the playoffs. Maybe this was the team that fit us the least. If we played against a more open offense, we could’ve been more successful. I think we battled, but we were maybe half a size too small.”
For every word uttered about the Red Wings’ speed and youth in the days leading up to the Bruins’ first-round opponent, Boston responded with the intimidation, toughness and resolve that made them the favorite this postseason. They were, indeed and without a doubt, the better team.
So, what’s going to make this series any different?
Fact: The Bruins didn’t play well in two of their regular season showdowns with the Habs; a 2-1 loss on Dec. 5, a game in which Max Pacioretty knocked Johnny Boychuk out of the game with a hit into the boards - resulting in nary a 911 call from the 617 area code - and a 4-1 loss on Jan. 30 against Montreal backup goalie Peter Budaj, who happens to be 5-0-0 with a .960 save percentage for his career at TD Garden. Boston ran into Montreal twice during its 12-game winning streak; at the halfway mark, a 4-1 win on March 12 that halted a five-game losing streak to the Canadiens, and the bookend point, a 2-1 shootout loss on March 24 that snapped the winning stretch.
"It's tough to say," Montreal coach Michel Therrien said of Budaj after that win. "Some goalies feel comfortable to play in different buildings, and obviously Peter feels pretty comfortable about playing here.”
Comfortable enough to earn a Game 1 start later this week?
"It's great to play here," Budaj said in March. "It's a great atmosphere. Montreal fans travel well so they make it fun and Boston fans are always crazy and at some points you can't even hear the whistle. So anyone wants to play in a game like that, and it was fun.”
Budaj’s presence is one of the story lines to keep an eye on in advance of….Thursday? Saturday? (Northeastern University has the Garden reserved Friday for commencement proceedings.) For one thing, it’s not like Carey Price lit any cars on fire with his performance against Tampa Bay, allowing 10 goals over four games. Boston’s Tuukka Rask (1.16 GAA) was more than a goal better over the opening series with one more game on his resume, and as Mike Babcock showed, the Red Wings weren’t afraid to succumb to their own backup in Jonas Gustavsson when Jimmy Howard came down with the flu.
Overall, Montreal outscored the Lightning, 16-10, but just like the Bruins did against Detroit, the Canadiens spread out their scoring amongst 10 skaters. Rene Bourque (yes, really) and Brendan Gallagher led the way for Montreal with three goals each, followed by a pair from both Tomas Plekanec and Lars Eller. Bruins-killer Thomas Vanek had a goal and two assists. Connecticut’s Pacioretty scored the game-winner against the Lightning in Game 4.
The Canadiens answer the Bruins’ scoring balance by bringing a see-saw to the showdown. But no other playoff team has allowed fewer goals than the Bruins (remember the threat of Gustav Nyquist?), who also lead the way with Columbus and Anaheim with six power play goals, and only two allowed. In a series that’s assured to feature its wealth of dives, fake outs, and sirčnement, both units will play a pivotal factor against the Canadiens. Three years ago, the Bruins scored exactly zero power play goals in their classic seven-game playoff opener against the Canadiens, the last time these two teams have met in the postseason.
The Canadiens don’t forget that. They don’t forget anything that happens in the past. Sometimes, to their own peril.
If I had been picking the three stars from the Canadiens’ series-clinching 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 Tuesday night at the Bell Centre, it would have been tempting to go like this: 1. Ginette Reno. 2. John LeClair. 3. The Forum Ghosts…Reno, the 67-year-old Quebec singing legend, because she electrified the crowd and seemed to inspire the Canadiens for the second straight game with a powerful, heart-thumping rendition of O Canada….LeClair, because that could not possibly have been Rene Bourque wearing No. 17 for the Canadiens. Coach Michel Therrien must have some kind of time-warp machine that brought back former No. 17 LeClair, a key player in Montreal’s last Stanley Cup win in 1993. (Do you have a better explanation?)…The Forum Ghosts, because how else do you explain Steven Stamkos’s stick snapping in half on a golden scoring opportunity in front of the Canadiens’ net in Game 4. In fact, the Forum Ghosts might have finally found their way to the Bell Centre on March 15 — and decided to stick around — when the Canadiens rallied from a 4-1 deficit with less than four minutes remaining in the game to beat the Ottawa Senators 5-4 in overtime. The Canadiens have gone 14-3-1 since then.
Ask Curt Schilling where to find Mystique and Aura. Or, as Claude Julien succinctly put it, “We don't live in the past. We don't live in the future. We live in the present. We just do things one series at a time.”
Prepare for all the nonsense, frustration, and la haine a Boston-Montreal playoff series delivers. This will be No. 35, the most times in modern professional sports history that two teams have met in the postseason. It’s going to go seven, and be arguably the most intense round the Bruins face on their quest for the Stanley Cup.
"I think people tend to make it a huge deal outside our locker room, but we've learned over the years to keep the focus on us," Rask said.
That’s a mind-set the Canadiens are so good at taking away. New series. New season. New set of reasons to despise the opponent, a factor that has been lacking since last year’s Eastern Conference final run-in with the Penguins.
As Yoda once said, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
There’s plenty to fear about what the Canadiens bring. The rest will just inevitably boil over once the two teams hit the ice this week. Again.
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