With three Game 7’s Wednesday night, the rest of the playoff picture is still unsettled…but the NHL is wasting no time, they have scheduled the Boston-Montreal series to start Thursday night. I’ll post previews for the other three series tomorrow. Click here for a look back at my round one previews.
Montreal vs. Boston
Both teams took care of business quickly in round 1. Boston advanced by doing their grind-you-down thing against a game, but overmatched, Detroit squad. I had an idea that Detroit was in trouble after Game 1…they had played just about a perfect game against the Bruins, yet needed a late 3rd-period goal to win 1-0. I suspected that might be their high-water mark for the series, and it was…Boston won the next four without a whole lot of trouble.
Montreal had an even easier time, sweeping Tampa Bay and averaging four goals per game in the process. Tampa REALLY missed top goalie Ben Bishop, but let’s give Montreal credit – I thought they’d win the series, but I never thought they’d dominate like that.
Both teams obviously got a long time to rest and prepare for each other and I think that favors the Bruins, primarily because of their deep playoff run a year ago. Boston is, by and large, a veteran team and getting a week off in April can only help their energy level. Montreal has a younger team, one that hasn’t made the second round of the playoffs since 2010, so the break likely didn’t help them quite as much. These teams are division rivals and have played each other constantly since the inception of the NHL, so I seriously doubt the extra prep time helped them learn about each other – there are few secrets amongst division rivals.
You’re going to hear a lot in the next few days about how Montreal handled Boston during the regular season…take that with a grain of salt. Yes, Montreal was one of only three teams to have a winning record against the Bruins, going 3-1. Detroit was one of the others going 3-1 against Boston during the season…and you saw how much that helped them in the last round. Regular season matchups mean little; and less this time of the year.
Both teams are extremely sound defensively, both feature elite goaltenders, and both have some exciting offensive talent. The problem for Montreal is that everything they do, Boston does just a little bit better. Montreal was well above-average, allowing the 8th-fewest goals per game in the league…but Boston was #2, allowing just over two goals per game. Montreal has one of the top young defenseman in the game in PK Subban…but Boston has the best defenseman of the past decade in Zdeno Chara. Montreal has a gold medal-winning goalie in Carey Price…but by the numbers, Boston’s Tukka Rask has been the better goalie every season of his (short) career. Montreal’s leading scorer, Max Pacioretty, had 39 goals and 60 points…but the Bruins had three players score 60+ points and two 30-goal scorers.
The bottom line is that the Bruins are the deepest team in the league. They roll four lines consistently and grind their opponents down. Montreal is smaller and perhaps faster, and will need to exploit that speed to win.
How Montreal can win:
#1. Carey Price has to outplay Rask. Easier said than done, but perhaps this is Price’s time…he’s always had the potential to be one of the best in the world, maybe the Olympic experience helps him find that next level.
#2. Montreal HAS to win the special-teams battle. Boston is too good 5-on-5 to expect to beat them over seven games at even strength…these two teams constantly take penalties against each other, and Montreal has to take advantage of those situations.
#3. Keep cool. Subban in particular often rides that fine line between agitating the opponent and making silly plays that hurt his own team. Montreal has to agitate the Bruins, but not to the point they take silly penalties or get out of position defensively.
How Boston can win:
#1. Stay out of the box. As mentioned above, if this series is played at even strength Montreal has little chance. Boston is the better team and giving in to the temptation to brawl with the Canadiens only works to Montreal’s advantage.
#2. Stay the course. They likely will face more adversity this series than they did in the last round…if they stick to their system and trust each other, they should prevail. There’s no question they have the better team here.
As a Pens fan I’m obviously rooting like crazy for Montreal, because I think Boston is a TERRIBLE matchup for Pittsburgh…but I don’t think the ‘Habs’ can pull this off. As I say every time, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE in a short series, but the smart money is on Boston. I look for Price to play well and steal a game or two, but in the end it’s BOSTON IN SIX.
Dave Glass can be reached at email@example.com.