Bruins-Canadiens preview: Always a battle

Bruins-Canadiens preview: Always a battle
March 3, 2013, 1:30 pm
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BOSTON -- The Bruins left the Bell Centre victorious last month with a 2-1 comeback win in hand, but they also exited the home of the Montreal Canadiens with a healthy respect for the Habs. The Bruins saw their rival's speed, skill and overall confidence restored with a healthy Andrei Markov back in the Montreal lineup. They also saw a team they would be competing with all season for Northeast Division dominance and playoff pole position.

“Great speed. Good skill. They have the whole package there. You’ve got to respect that,” said Tuukka Rask, who made 20 saves in an excellent performance against Montreal when it seemed like every shot was a quality scoring chance. “They’re used to being in those top positions, so I don’t think it’s any exception this year.”

The Canadiens could be a little tired after playing to a 7-6 overtime loss at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night, and not getting into their Boston hotel beds until the wee hours of Saturday night/Sunday morning. With the Montreal overtime loss and Boston win the two storied rivals enter Sunday night’s nationally televised game on NBC Sports Network tied with exactly 30 points on the season, and the Bruins with three games in hand on their hated foes from Montreal.

“It’s going to be a tough battle against Montreal. It’s always the same games. It’s always hard to play against, it’s always tough games, and it’s always tight games,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We’re [equal] in the standings as well so we know it’s going to be a big game.”

The return of Michael Ryder will add another little bit of spice to this year’s edition of the Bruins-Habs rivalry as one of the big contributors to Boston’s Stanley Cup championship in now the Bleu, Blanc and Rouge enemy. That’s in addition to scrappy, emotional players like Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong that were added to the mix this season, though those two didn’t really factor into the first game at the Bell Centre in a game that felt like a “feeling out” effort for both sides.

“They’re playing really well this year," said Gregory Campbell. "Regardless of where they are they always give us a good game. But I’ve watched a lot of their games and they’ve gelled really well, and that’s impressive for the changes they made without an extended training camp. They seem to have bought into the system the coach is preaching and their goalie always keeps them in games.”

While there are new players in the mix, it always seems to come back to Carey Price, P.K. Subban and Tomas Plekanec among others in the Boston-Montreal rivalry games, and it would seem to be no different as both teams suit up with first place in the Northeast Division on the line.
 
PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRES PUMPED: Shawn Thornton was a healthy scratch for the first time all season on Saturday afternoon, and he has one point in 15 games along with a minus-4 rating. Thornton also hasn’t dropped the gloves in eight games since suffering a concussion while tussling with Buffalo Sabres enforcer John Scott. He can’t be excited about his current situation. He remained a team guy speaking about his plight on Sunday morning, however, and should be skating around like his hair is on fire if he gets into Sunday night’s game against the Canadiens.
 
DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: “Great speed. Good skill. They have the whole package there. You’ve got to respect that. They’re used to being in those top positions, so I don’t think it’s any exception this year.” –Tuukka Rask about the Bruins players coming away impressed from their first season meeting with the Canadiens at the Bell Centre last month.  
 
KEY MATCHUP: The Bruins have allowed three power play goals in the last two games, but still lead the NHL with a 91.9 percent success rate on the penalty kill this season. They were effective in neutralizing the Canadiens power play during their first meeting, and pressuring Andrei Markov to give up the puck from his point position. The Bruins PK unit will need to once again play that kind of game to eliminate Montreal’s special teams as a factor. The Habs are eighth in the NHL with a 21.2 success rate on the road and had scored PP goals in four straight games before their loss to the Penguins.  
 
STAT TO WATCH: 4 – With his one-timer in the second period that helped spark the Bruins, Tyler Seguin has taken the lead on the Bruins with four power-play points (2 goals, 2 assists) on the season.  
 
INJURIES: For The Canadiens, they are missing Raphael Diaz and Rene Bourque due to concussions and former Bruins bottom six guy Petteri Nokelainen is out with a lower body injury.
 
GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: The Canadiens didn’t hold a morning skate, but it’s anticipated that Price will get the starting nod for the Habs in an important divisional game against the Bruins. Price is coming off giving up seven goals to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a wild 7-6 overtime loss on Saturday night, so there could be a little testiness in his game. Rask is on a roll where he’s 6-0-1 in his last seven starts and hasn’t given up more than two goals in regulation during the stretch of solid play. Rask was the first Bruins goalie off the ice at morning skate, and will get the start for Boston while looking to build on a personal five-game winning streak.