BOSTON – Nobody would be thunderstruck if the Bruins entered their second round series against the Montreal Canadiens full of vim, vigor and confidence born of ousting the Detroit Red Wings in five games after putting together the NHL’s best record through the 82-game regular season.
The Bruins have earned the right to have the confidence of a past champion, and know much difficulty their size, strength, depth and aptitude in all zones can present for opponents. But the Bruins also know they went 1-2-1 against the Montreal Canadiens this season, and have lost six of their last seven games to the hated Habs over the last two years.
Some of it is Montreal’s speed, some of it is lightning rod players like Alexei Emelin and P.K. Subban that are adept at rattling the cages of the Bruins players, and some of it is simply a bad matchup for Boston. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli is in no way fearing the Canadiens entering their first second round playoff battle against Montreal since 1992, but understands how challenging the Habs could be for them,
“It’s obviously another difficult one. We were mediocre against [Montreal] during the year, but they’re a team that has given us trouble historically, so it will be a challenge. Much is said about their size and their speed, and, allegedly, that’s what gives us problems,” said Chiarelli. “I think that’s part of it. I think it’s just that sometimes, you just don’t have success against [a team]. Having said that, that applied to Detroit, too, so you see what happened with that.
“They’ve got some speedy forwards, they made themselves better with [Tomas] Vanek, that line has had some success with Max Pacioretty and [David] Desharnais. Their goalie is good — very good. So it’ll be a real interesting series, I think. Despite the common belief that speed kills, I think we’ve shown that we have some speed, and we have some size, and we have experience. It will be a challenge, but I think we’ll overcome that challenge.”
The Bruins will obviously not have the same kind of depth advantages against the Canadiens that the enjoyed against the Red Wings, the goaltending matchup of Tuukka Rask vs. Carey Price is pretty close to a wash. The Montreal third line of Rene Bourque, Brian Gionta and Lars Eller was actually the team’s most dangerous against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and gives the Canadiens the same kind of lineup balance that Boston relies upon in their rougher matches.
It’s for all of these reasons and more that the Montreal Canadiens will push the Bruins harder than anybody else is capable of doing in the Eastern Conference. It will go down as the most difficult steppingstone series standing between the Bruins and their third Stanley Cup Final appearance in the last four years. Those around the Bruins will be crestfallen if Boston falls at the hands of the Canadiens in the second round of the playoffs, but punching their ticket for the Stanley Cup Final should they advance past the Canadiens.
The Pittsburgh Penguins inspired no confidence in just squeaking by the Blue Jackets, and both the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers were handled by the Bruins throughout this season. The identity of the Western Conference representative in the Cup Final will certainly have an impressive list of accomplishments through these playoffs, but they’ll also field a beaten up roster that could be easier pickings for any East team that can breeze their way through the first three rounds.