BOSTON (CBS) – The fiercest rivalry is hockey is set to reignite in what’s sure to be a heated affair.
In the past, the Bruins have always been billed as the grittier club, while the Canadiens have been the more skilled team.
These lines have become blurred with the current roster constructions though, as the Bruins have more than their share of skill this season, and the Canadiens have made a concerted effort to field a more rugged lineup.
This is particularly highlighted at the forward position.
Up front the Bruins are led by Jarome Iginla, Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Carl Soderberg, Brad Marchand and Loui Eriksson.
The Canadiens will counter with front lines that feature Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, Brian Gionta, Tomas Plekanec and notorious Bruins-killer Thomas Vanek.
The two sides are pretty comparable here, and if you looked at the teams on paper alone you might be apt to pick the Canadiens, especially after they acquired Vanek at the deadline. Vanek is a guy who has given Boston fits over the years, scoring 30 goals, and adding 32 assists in his 55 career games against the Bruins. The top two lines for either team seem to be a toss-up.
However, the emergence of Soderberg and efficiency of the Bruins third line gives them the edge at forward. The combination of the one-eyed Swede and Eriksson has been lights out since the Olympic break, and the line has been playing at a first line level. Compare that to the Habs third line of Rene Bourque, Lars Eller and Gionta, and there’s no contest.
Wild Card: Danny Briere. His regular-season apathy relegated him to a fourth-line role, but Briere is a guy who historically elevates his game when the calendar hits April and May. Expect him to score at least one big goal in this series.
Edge at Forward: Boston
On the blue line, Boston boasts the shut-down pairing of Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk, and they’re complemented by Dougie Hamilton, Kevan Miller and Torey Krug.
The Canadiens counter with Josh Gorges, Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin, Mike Weaver and of course Boston’s favorite, P.K. Subban.
The youth of the Bruins defensive corps was one of Boston’s biggest concerns heading into the postseason, but the first round proved that Roger Daltrey nailed it when he sang, “The kids are alright.”
Classic rock break:
OK, back to hockey.
Hamilton and Krug stole the show in the first round. Both green defensemen had great series against the Red Wings, and were catalysts for a Bruins offensive attack that was inconsistent at times. Miller also played an excellent series, and always seemed to make the smart play with the puck on his stick.
On the other side, the Canadiens have a gifted group. The Subban-Gorges pairing is a strong one, but P.K. isn’t always sound in his own end, especially when he loses composure against Boston. Their second pair of Markov and Emelin is also skilled, but they aren’t exactly burly. This could open the door for Boston’s physical first line, which took a while to wake up against Detroit.
The Habs will likely insert Douglas Murray into the lineup at some point in the series to add some size against the Bruins attack, but his skating ability can be exposed. Defense isn’t the strength of either club, but Boston’s group seems to be a bit stronger at this point given their Norris finalist’s play of late.
Wild Card: Josh Gorges. The most underrated player in this series has the ability to be an elite defenseman.
Edge on Defense: Boston (slightly)
In the cage, the Bruins’ Tuukka Rask will face off with Carey Price.
Rask was lights-out in the first round, and he is playing some of the best hockey of his career. He currently leads the postseason with a 1.16 GAA and .961 save percentage. It’s easy to give him the advantage here, especially given his elite play throughout the season and last postseason.
However, it’s important not to sleep on Price. He was very good in the first round against a Tampa Bay club with a lot of offensive firepower. Price has the ability to keep his team in games when when his defense hangs him out to dry.
Wild Card: Chad Johnson. If there’s a goalie better than Ochocinco at opening the door on the bench, I haven’t seen him.
Edge in net: Boston
Claude Julien’s system is firing on all cylinders, and when that’s happening the Bruins are a force to be reckoned with. Behind the bench, Boston has the edge, as all of the Bruins have bought in to what Claude’s selling; a system that seems to be even more effective with playoff-style hockey.
Michel Therrien does have his team playing at a high level, and should be lauded for his efforts this season, but he’s not in Julien’s league right now.
Wild Card: Last Change at Home
Edge behind the bench: Boston
For whatever reason, Montreal is really good at getting the Bruins off their game. With any Bruins-Canadiens series, there is sure to be plenty of ridiculousness as Michael Hurley pointed out earlier.
Marchand talked about how Subban loves to hit you after the whistle. Tons of slew foots (feets??) during the game. #BruinsTalk
— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) April 30, 2014
It’s already starting, and this seems to benefit the Habs more often than not, as the Bruins are apt to take senseless penalties like this one:
In terms of experience, at first glance you’d give the massive edge to Boston because of their deep runs over the past few seasons, but most of their defensive corps wasn’t a part of those. The Bruins do have the advantage here, but it’s not as vast as one would think.
It’s also safe to say the Canadiens are due for a bit of puck luck.
According to Lucic, a domesticated fowl plays for Montreal.
Ridiculous as it may be, this is another example of the Canadiens getting into the Bruins’ heads.
Boston’s struggles in the Bell Centre are well documented, and it’s one of the toughest environments in the NHL to play in.
Montreal has won six of the last seven contests between the two clubs.
Wild Card: Officiating. In a strange turn of events, the officials putting the whistles away would benefit Montreal. The Bruins special teams were outstanding in the first round, while the Canadiens have been struggling on the man advantage.
Edge with intangibles: Montreal
Christopher Mason is an intern at 98.5 The SportsHub.