Don’t let the ghost stories scare you.
On the eve of the conference semifinals Game 1 against the Montreal Canadiens, many Bruins fans are sweating a 34th postseason matchup with the bleu, blanc, et rouge. Many have cited the Habs’ momentum coming off a triumphant four-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning as well as their historical success in the 33 previous extracurricular meetings between these two teams as causes for panic, but none of this matters. Even with their 24 wins over the Bruins, Canadiens are still the underdog.
If we’re defining this matchup on history, let it be recent history.
Yes, the Montreal Canadiens made mincemeat of the Lightning in four games, dicing Yzerman’s boys in four straight. How does their series sweep compare to the Bruins trouncing the Red Wings in four consecutive? Both opponents were banged-up – with the Wings missing Henrik Zetterberg for four games and Jimmy Howard for two and the Bolts going in sans Vezina nominee Ben Bishop. It might be worth noting that three of Montreal’s wins came by a single goal, but at least they didn’t cough up a loss. The Canadiens managed 16 goals, two more than the Bruins in one less game.
Though the two matchups may look qualitatively similar, there are two aspects that give the Bruins a definite edge in this year’s playoff play: goaltending and special teams.
Let’s start with goaltending. Tuukka Rask, the Bruins’ own Vezina candidate, has been on point since the conclusion of the regular season. Via ESPN:
Carey Price (2.33 GAA, .904 SV%) will need to be better if he hopes to outduel Rask (1.16 GAA, .961 SV%, 1 SO), who has proven to be a game-breaker in the first round.
On the man advantage, the B’s boast a 37.5 percent success rate (6 for 16), more than doubling the Habs’ 15.4 percent (2 for 13). Montreal has also forfeited a shorthanded goal and only killed 71.4 percent of their penalties (though they scored a shorty in the process). Boston’s 90 percent PK rate is best in the East, and their powerplay units are surging out of their defeat of Detroit, which makes the special teams matchup a clear win for the Black and Gold, especially with four of the possible seven faceoffs taking place at the TD Garden.
The Ghosts of the Montreal Forum are a myth. They’ve long since been exorcised, when the 1987-88 Bruins took down the Habs’ indomitable 18-series streak. Hell, the Montreal Forum hasn’t existed for nearly 16 years. It’s been 21 years since its former tenets skated a championship lap with Lord Stanley’s prize, and they haven’t been back to the Cup finals since.
The Bruins, on the other hand, have won seven of the last 11 playoff battles between the Original Six rivals, including the last two. They took home the Cup in 2010-11, coming just two wins shy of repeating in 2012-13. They haven’t missed the postseason since Claude Julien took over in 2007.
So put away your Ouija Boards. Tell your young priest and old priest to take the next two weeks off. The Bruins have proven this year – and for the last 10 years – that they’re the better team.
History be damned.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011-12. This has been updated to 2010-11,.