Bruins, Canadiens ready for battle with first place on line

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Bruins, Canadiens ready for battle with first place on line

MONTREAL The Bruins last saw a very different Montreal Canadiens team that was in a shambles last year.

Who could forget that it was Bostons TD Garden where Habs forward Mike Cammalleri was dealt to the Calgary Flames last year in the middle of a losing effort against the Bruins when Montreal had finally waved the white flag on the season?

Or that the Bruins reeled off four straight wins against the punchy arch-rival Canadiens to end last season?

That kind of big brotherlittle brother relationship leaving off last year gives the Bruins some confidence riding into the Bell Centre for Wednesdays first showdown of the season. But it's also a new year for both storied Original Six teams and Wednesday night's battle will be for first place in the Northeast Division.

It was clearly a year to forget about for Montreal as their English-speaking interim head coach and GM Pierre Gautier were replaced after the season in favor of Marc Bergevin and French-speaking Michel Therrien.

The Bruins have plenty to be confident about while leaping out to a 6-1-1 start that puts them atop the Northeast Division, but the Canadiens are only a point behind the Black and Gold more two weeks into the season. Montreal has also built a 5-1-0 record at the always rollicking Bell Centre this year where they decimated the Buffalo Sabres last weekend, and have only improved with the addition of P.K. Subban now that his holdout is finally over.

Couple that with a healthy Andrei Markov roaming the bliue line for the first time in three years and new gritty acquisitions in Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong, and it should be business as usual Wednesday night for the heated rivals. While he's not the defensive stalwart that Zdeno Chara is in Boston, Markov is Montreal's Chara as the Habs' Captain and the defenseman that plays 25 minutes a game in all situations.

Missing him last year was a significant factor in their free fall to the Eastern Conference basement.

Youve got to remember that they ran into a lot of injuries. When you lose a guy like Markov for the entire year and Max Pacioretty, they had key guys getting injured. They were never able to get their second wind, said Claude Julien, who knows firsthand how good Markov is after coaching him as a young player blossoming into captain-worthy material for the Habs. Once you derail its hard to get back on track. They certainly werent as bad as the standings show. Now that theyre healthy with a new coach and a new GM breathing new life in there, theyve caught fire.

"Its going to be a good game and it will be a battle for first place with them just a point behind us. We also have Tampa on Saturday, so its going to be a tough week. But it all starts with Montreal. Theyre playing with an edge right now. Theres no doubt about it.

Clearly the usual suspects like Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara will be a little more dialed in at a Bell Centre setting thats become incredibly adversarial for them over their careers. But everybody on the Black and Gold roster can get swept up in the historic hate-fest their organization has had with the Canadiens over generations, and thats why it was a perfect choice for NBC Sports Networks Rivalry Night in front of a national audience.

It will also be the introduction to the MontrealBoston rivalry for young players on both sides of the aisle like Dougie Hamilton, Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, and those fresh faces will bring their energy to the mix.

I know theyre playing good hockey. Theyre a good, fast-skating team and Carey Price is playing good in net there, said Tuukka Rask. Its going to be a tough matchup. Its a lot of fun. The crowd always gets up for those games, but its good for us too. Theyre always pretty entertaining games and Im sure it will be no exception on Wednesday.

Its a little disappointing that the Bruins and Canadiens only face each other four times this season in a 48-game shortened season when some divisional rivals are playing each other on five occasions. It's not an ideal set-up for the players, spectators and media that thrive on the inspired rivalry.

But the Bs are simply putting their heads down and playing the games on the schedule, and a battle for first place adds a little extra to the pot when it's not even needed.

Were both off to good starts, and theyre playing well especially at home, said Rich Peverley. With the rivalry its obviously a big game, but anytime youre in a shortened season division games are going to be important.

Itll be a fun game. Its always fun to play in a building like that.

Fun is one way to describe the BruinsCanadiens rivalry.

Some other ways would be passionate, electrifying, emotional and heated, and it will be all those adjectives and more when the puck drops between the Bruins and Habs before a sold-out, screaming full house at the Bell Centre.

Morning Skate: Sidney Crosby has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation

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Morning Skate: Sidney Crosby has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while wishing everybody a safe and relaxing Memorial Day weekend. 

*Apparently Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette has yet to try Nashville’s hot chicken despite his time behind the Preds bench. It’s okay, I have yet to try it either in my handful of visits to Music City. 

*Good stuff from PHT writer and FOH (Friend of Haggs) Jason Brough. Apparently it wasn’t so easy to make Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed when it came time for director Doug Liman to cut Swingers together

*Sidney Crosby cares about the history and the issues of the game, and has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation despite the hate that always comes with such responsibility. 

*Puck Daddy examines Crosby’s performance in the playoffs, and the odds of him winning another Conn Smythe Trophy. 

*The Penguins have made it to the Stanley Cup Final without Kris Letang for their playoff run, and that’s an amazing accomplishment. 

*Erik Karlsson said that he will be tending to his injured foot next week, and expects a full recovery for next season after a brilliant run with his Ottawa Senators

*Larry Brooks again rails against the Stanley Cup playoff structure and it’s relation to an “absurd regular season.” Say what you will, but the fact the Penguins are there for a second straight season shoots down some of the absurdity stuff in my mind. The best team from the East is where they should be and they did it without Kris Letang to boot. 

*Chicago Blackhawks prospect Alex Debrincat is confident his abilities will translate to the NHL despite his size after taking home honors as the best player in junior hockey this season. 

*For something completely different: Apparently there’s a hard core comic book geek gripe that “The Flash” is burning through bad guys too quickly. This would make sense if they couldn’t revisit these bad guys at any point, but they absolutely can go back to a big bad like Grodd anytime they want. 

Playoff run ends for Providence Bruins, but some promising signs

Playoff run ends for Providence Bruins, but some promising signs

It was the longest run that the P-Bruins have had in a few years and another unmistakable sign that the future is brightening for the Black and Gold, but the Bruins AHL affiliate has ended their playoff push in the Calder Cup semi-finals. 

The Providence Bruins fell by a 3-1 score to the Syracuse Crunch on Saturday night to lose to the Crunch in five games when the best-of-seven series was set to return to Providence this coming week. The P-Bruins had vanquished the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins and Hershey Bears in the first two rounds of the Calder Cup playoffs before finally exiting against Syracuse. 

Though it’s over, it’s clear some of the Bruins prospects made a nice step forward over the second half of the AHL season and then into the Calder Cup playoffs. With the Calder Cup Finals yet to start, B’s forward prospect Danton Heinen stands as the second-leading playoff scorer in the entire AHL with nine goals and 18 points in 17 playoff games after really struggling in the first half of his first pro season while bouncing back and forth between the NHL and the AHL. 

This could bode well for the skilled Heinen and his hopes to make the leap to the NHL in the near future after a stellar collegiate career at the University of Denver. AHL journeymen-types Wayne Simpson and Jordan Szwarz were the next two top scorers for the P-Bruins in the playoff run, but Jake DeBrusk had a strong playoff season as well while popping in six goals in 17 games. DeBrusk led all Providence players with his 54 shots on net in the 17-game playoff run for Providence, and he headlined a group that included B’s prospects Ryan Fitzgerald, Zach Senyshyn, Matt Grzelcyk, Peter Cehlarik (who succumbed to shoulder surgery during the playoffs), Emil Johansson and Robbie O’Gara all getting some vital playoff experience. 

Both Heinen and DeBrusk will be strong candidates for jobs on the wing with the Boston big club when training camp opens in the fall after strong showings in the postseason. 

On the goaltending side, Zane McIntyre was solid for the P-Bruins at times while in 16 of their 17 playoff games with a .906 save percentage. But it was Malcolm Subban that was playing at the very end of the playoff run for Providence and featured a sterling .937 save percentage in the four AHL playoff games that he appeared in this spring after an up-and-down regular season. McIntyre had an .857 save percentage and 4.37 goals against average in the final series against Syracuse, and looked a little spent like many of the other P-Bruins players once they’d unexpectedly made it to the third round of the AHL postseason.  

The only unfortunate part of Providence’s run is that newly signed youngsters Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson couldn’t be a part of it after signing and then appearing in NHL games following a cut-off date for AHL playoff rosters. Both missed on an experience that could have been very conducive for their professional development, and uncovered a wrinkle in the NHL/AHL transaction process that really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for a developmental league.