The Bruins and Canadiens will meet in the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the 34th time in history these two will square off in a playoff series. The Bruins won the President’s Trophy by leading the NHL with 117 points in 2013-14, while the Habs finished third in the Atlantic Division by scoring 100 points.
The head-to-head series, however, was a different story, as Montreal took three out of the four regular season meetings between the clubs. The Bruins have only won once in their past seven games against the Canadiens, but have a ton of confidence after their takedown of the Red Wings in five games.
Here is a look at several key matchups to the series that will decide the Atlantic Division’s representative in the 2014 Eastern Conference final.
Bruins top line vs. Canadiens defense
The Bruins’ first set of forwards had a quiet beginning to their series against the Red Wings, but stepped up for the Black and Gold when it mattered. In the four Bruins wins, the line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic, and Jarome Iginla amassed 10 points, with Lucic scoring three goals and an assist, Iginla scoring two of each, and Krejci assisting on two scores.
The Canadiens’ defense looked like Swiss cheese in the Habs’ 5-4 overtime win in Game 1, but settled down for Games 2-4, and ended up with a total rating of plus-12, though that number is more indicative of the Habs’ offense putting up 16 goals. None of the Habs’ defenders scored in the series, but four of them had assists: P.K. Subban had five, Alexei Emelin and Josh Gorges had two, and Mike Weaver had one.
Canadiens top line vs. Bruins defense
The top line of the Canadiens got a huge boost at the trade deadline, as Montreal acquired Bruins killer Thomas Vanek and paired him with Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais to create a first line just as dangerous as the Bruins’. In the Habs’ first round sweep of Tampa Bay, the first line combined for seven points in four games, with Vanek scoring a goal and two assists, while Pacioretty and Desharnai tallied one of each.
The Bruins’ defense in 2013-14 was just as shutdown as it has always been, and it showed in their first round dismantling of the Red Wings. Anchored by Norris-finalist Zdeno Chara, the defenseman combined for a plus-8 rating in the five games, while they provided a good spark to the offense as well, with Chara scoring two goals and Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton totaling five and four points, respectively.
Bruins power play vs. Canadiens penalty kill
One weakness that the Bruins have had over the past few seasons has been their power play that was never able to really get going. This year was a different story, however, as the power play was suddenly relevant again in Boston, thanks to the strong play of rookie Torey Krug, and the Bruins made great use of the man advantage during their first round series. Against Detroit, the B’s went 6-for-16 on the power play, a percentage of 37.5 that led all of the playoffs through the first round.
The Habs’ penalty kill was very good during the regular season, finishing with a 85.1 kill percentage, good for fourth in the NHL. It wasn’t tested as much during their four games against the Lightning, getting just seven chances and allowing two goals.
Canadiens power play vs. Bruins penalty kill
Montreal’s power play, which has long been one of its advantages over the Bruins, is nowhere to be seen since the calendar turned to April. The Habs didn’t score a power play goal in any of their April regular season games, and went just 2-for-13 in their four-game first-round series.
Just like their lockdown defense, the Bruins’ penalty kill was one of the strongest in the league this year and made it look easy against Detroit. The Red Wings had 20 power play opportunities in five games and managed just two goals, as the Bruins shut down the potent Red Wings’ power play and used the momentum to swing games in their favor. In 17 opportunities during the regular season, the Bruins allowed the Habs to score just two goals with the man-advantage.
Tuukka Rask vs. Carey Price
In net, it could be argued that no goaltender was better in 2013-14 than Tuukka Rask. Fresh off leading the Bruins to within two wins of their second Stanley Cup in three seasons, Rask was lights out this year, going 36-15-6 with a save percentage of .930. In the first round against Detroit, he was especially stingy, allowing only four goals through the first four games and a grand total of six goals in the series. If Rask can replicate his performance from the regular season and against the Red Wings, it could be a major factor in what propels the Bruins into the next round.
While Tuukka Rask gets all the hype heading into this series, he is opposed by a pretty good goaltender in between the opposite pipes: Carey Price. Price missed some time this season due to an injury he sustained leading Team Canada to an Olympic gold medal, but still went 34-20-5 with a save percentage of .927. Price was shaky at times in the Habs’ four game sweep of Tampa Bay, allowing 10 goals in four games, but did enough to supplement a weak defense. If the defensemen falter as they did in the first round, Price may be the only thing stopping the Bruins from blowing the series wide open.
Claude Julien vs. Michel Therrien
Since taking over a Bruins head coach in 2007, Claude Julien has turned the Bruins into one of the model franchises in the NHL. They have never missed the playoffs in Julien’s seven-year tenure. Julien has the Bruins playing a two-way kind of hockey that is unmatched in the league, and although no individual player lights up the league in scoring, the team as a whole has become well-known for its offense, as well as its defense.
Michel Therrien took over as coach of the Canadiens in 2012, as the team was coming off a disastrous 2011-12 season, in which they missed the playoffs. Therrien led the Habs to a Northeast Division title in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, but the team lost its opening series to the Ottawa Senators in five games. They bounced back this year, and are into the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10. This is Therrien’s second tenure as coach of the Habs, as he lasted 1 1/2 seasons from 2001-2003, fired at midseason 2002-03 and replaced by none other than Claude Julien.
Bruins will win if…
They continue to play the shutdown defense and physical game that stymied the Red Wings for most of their opening round series. The Bruins are much stronger and play a heavier game than the Canadiens, and if they can wear the Habs down, then they can control the flow of the game and slow the Canadiens down to a crawl. They also will win if they can keep their emotions in check and not take too many bad penalties, a trend that the Habs exploited in their meeting on March 24, when Montreal ended the Bruins’ 12-game winning streak.
Canadiens will win if…
They can get the Bruins to beat themselves with costly penalties. This will undoubtedly be a very emotional series, and the Canadiens have used that to their advantage in the past, luring the Bruins into scrums that gives Montreal valuable power play time, and less time for the Bruins’ strong 5-on-5 to be on the ice. The Canadiens will also win if they can get up a couple games on the Bruins by using their speed to produce rapid goals in succession. The Bruins will need to make sure they don’t lose an angle to the speedy Habs, as they will blow right by and get an open look at the Bruins’ net.