B's - Habs preview: Bring on the hate and first place

B's - Habs preview: Bring on the hate and first place
December 5, 2013, 11:30 am
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MONTREAL – It’s really all you can ask for in sports during a regular season showdown.

To have two ancient, hated rivals playing with first place on the line, and a chance to make a bold first statement for the rest of the season with divisional rivalries expected to play a big part in this year’s playoff format. The Bruins will travel to Montreal for a Thursday night tilt at the Bell Centre with the Habs just a point behind them after taking a shootout win over the Devils in Newark Wednesday night.

Newcomers like Reilly Smith will be experiencing the Bell Centre for the first time, while veteran B’s players like Shawn Thornton are looking forward to their blood starting to boil.

“You just get an appreciation for the deep-rooted history of hatred for each other,” said Thornton, who could very well be in line for a tangle with good buddy/former teammate George Parros on Thursday night. “It probably took a game or three for me to actually really understand it. Now I fully embrace it.”

Boston has enjoyed a stretch of four straight days without a game after playing eight games in 13 days, and really seemed to find their rhythm in wins over the Rangers and Blue Jackets at the end of last week. Despite the layoff, the Black and Gold will be looking to carry that game over into the proceedings at the always hostile, unfriendly Bell Centre.

“It’s always a good game, especially [in Montreal] where their fans are passionate and loud,” said Johnny Boychuk. “It’s always fun to try to take two points from them in their house.

“We haven’t played them in a long time, but it will be nice to have battle and passion back into the game.”

Montreal has won eight of their last 10 games while riding the red-hot stick of Max Pacioretty (three goals, four points and 18 shots on net in his last three games), and they’ve separated themselves in the Eastern Conference pack along with the Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s not coincident that those three teams (Boston, Pittsburgh, and Montreal) are the three top teams in the East standings while also bragging the best goal differentials in the conference as well.

The three teams are a combined plus-61 on the season.

“Their team has really in the last month stabilized themselves,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien, when asked about the Habs on Wednesday. “Defensively, they're not giving much. They're right behind us in goals against.”

The hatred is already there, the proximity in the Atlantic Division standings is there and the despised P.K. Subban is skating around looking to get under the skin of the Boston Bruins, per usual. This has all the makings of an instant classic as the Bruins get ready to do battle with the Bleu, Blanc and Rouge all over again in the first of four heated rivalry games this season.

 

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRES PUMPED: Zero goals, three points and a minus-2 rating for Chris Kelly in 15 games during the month of November speak to a player that’s spending a lot of time covering for his two inexperienced linemates in Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith. Kelly is the perpetual third man high on the B’s third line while getting back on defense, and has to keep an eye on a pair of player that aren’t always in the right spot defensively. All that being said the Bruins could use a little bit more from Kelly during a very quiet period, even for him, after a really promising first month to the season.
 

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: “We’ve got some bumps and bruises. We’ve had a little extra time [to practice] because we had played a lot of games in a row. Just to have a couple of days is kind of nice after last year having no days off before going so far into the playoffs. We got some rest, and we were able to work on some things.” –Johnny Boychuk on the Bruins, who had four days off before heading into Thursday night’s tilt at the Bell Centre.
 

KEY MATCHUP: Tuukka Rask needs to step up his game against the Montreal Canadiens. Historically he’s struggled against the Habs with a 2.83 goals against average and .901 save percentage in 13 games played against Montreal, and has worse numbers against only the Washington Capitals among Eastern Conference teams. Last year was even worse with a 1-2-1 record in four games along with a 2.96 goals against and .885 save percentage in with 12 goals allowed in four games vs. Montreal. So it will be up to Rask to slow down red-hot offensive force Max Pacioretty, who has been victimizing goalies all across the league since trade rumors seemed to spark his hibernating offensive game.  
 

STAT TO WATCH: 1 – the number of points that separate the Bruins from the Montreal Canadiens after the Habs defeated the New Jersey Devils in the shootout on Wednesday night in Newark.  


INJURIES: Bruins defenseman Torey Krug (undisclosed) practiced Wednesday without limitations, and is expected to play Thursday night against the Canadiens. He did accompany the team to Montreal. Adam McQuaid (groin) is out after not making the trip to Montreal.

Montreal is expected to be without forward Rene Bourque (upper body) and defenseman Davis Drewiske (shoulder) for the game Thursday night.
 

GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Tuukka Rask has now played 22 out of the 27 games for the Boston Bruins, and showed his first real signs of fatigue in the win over the Rangers last week. The Finnish netminder was still good enough to win that afternoon game, and boasts a 1.90 goals against average and .935 save percentage that still have him ranked fourth overall in both categories. Rask has struggled throughout his career vs. Montreal with a 2-8-2 record along with a 2.83 goals against average and .901 save percentage, and allowed 12 goals in four games against them last season.

For the Habs, Carey Price has been every bit as good and valuable as Rask has been to Boston. The Montreal netminder is 12-8-2 with a 2.00 goals against average and .937 save percentage, and was the rock behind the Canadiens’ players as they slowly found their way in the first two months of the season. Price always seems to turn his game up a notch against the Black and Gold in the storied rivalry, and Thursday night shouldn’t be any different.