The anticipated showdown takes place tonight at Bell Centre.
A Montreal club that was thumped in its last meeting against the Bruins (a 6-1 thrashing that left defenseman Mike Komisarek with a bum shoulder in a beatdown by the fists of Milan Lucic) will do its best to take revenge on what was once its personal punching bag.
But before they could throw down against the hated Habs, the Bruins had some stuff to take care of against a club that had practically claimed ownership of TD Banknorth Garden. The punchless Panthers are in last place in the Eastern Conference, but they hadn't suffered a loss against the Bruins at the Garden since Nov. 3, 2005.
"According to the stats that I saw, they've won seven out of the last eight games in this building," coach Claude Julien said before the game. "So if we're not ready for that, I don't know what will get us ready. This is a team that hasn't made the playoffs in a long time. But this is the same team that's come into this building and beat us quite often."
So on a night when the Bruins could have been looking forward to the Canadiens, they handled the Panthers with a businesslike calm, scoring a 4-2 win before 16,878 at the Garden and rightfully dispatching the No. 15 club to its appropriate demise. The rolling Bruins swagger into Bell Centre 11-1-1 in their last 13 games. The Bruins are tied with the Rangers atop the East with 30 points.
"We had to focus on this one first," said Patrice Bergeron. "That's the way we've got to look at it and approach it, take it game by game. Now we can start worrying about [tonight's] game. It's going to be a big one. We have to be ready to get some energy going."
Phil Kessel, Bergeron, Marc Savard, and David Krejci scored for the Bruins, while Tim Thomas stopped 30 of 32 Florida shots. Lucic, perhaps in anticipation of fireworks tonight, tuned up Nick Boynton in the second period after throwing a heavy hit on forward Michael Frolik, bloodying the ex-Bruin with a stream of lefts and rights.
While Lucic dealt out his blows in the second, the Bruins had their breath taken away in the middle frame when de fenseman Keith Ballard hit Savard low, most likely on the right knee. But Julien, who said the hit was clean, said Savard will be ready tonight. After the hit, Aaron Ward came to answer for Savard by dropping his gloves and taking a few pops at Ballard. Ward was called for a four-minute roughing penalty while Ballard was tagged with two minutes for roughing.
That Savard escaped serious injury is a good thing for the Bruins, considering how electric the No. 1 center's play has been. In the first period, the Bruins stretched out the Florida defense when Savard, carrying the puck out of his zone, spotted Kessel hustling up ice. Savard hit Kessel with a blue line-to-blue line pass that the winger collected and dumped behind Tomas Vokoun after making a slight shoulder pump to fake out the goalie for his team-best 10th strike.
In the second period, with the Bruins holding a 3-1 lead, Savard pumped in a power-play goal. First, Savard held the blue line and prevented the puck from skittering out of the offensive zone. Then he dished to Bergeron on the left side, and cut to the middle for a return pass. Bergeron had the give-and-go as an option, but put a shot on goal instead. Vokoun stopped the shot, but Savard was in the slot area to dump the rebound home at 9:26 for his eighth goal.
"I had Savvy for the give-and-go, and I tried to sell that and take the shot," said Bergeron (one goal, one assist in 18:10 of ice time). "Guess it was a bank pass off the skate there."
In the third period, the Bruins got a little ragged and were outshot, 10-4. At 16:54, forward Ville Peltonen, posting up in the slot, found the rebound of defenseman Jay Bouwmeester's point blast (one of eight shots by the big blue liner) and curled the rebound past Thomas to cut Boston's lead to 4-2. But the Panthers, even with Vokoun pulled for an extra attacker, never threatened to pull to within one goal.
"As much as you hate it, it's almost like a natural thing," Julien said of sitting back in the third. "We tried to roll four lines and get pucks in deep. We got sloppy at times. But we were composed enough to limit the damage."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.