Kings vs. Ducks
The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens will meet in the Stanley Cup playoffs for a record 34th time Thursday. While it's tempting to wax poetic about the great history between these bitter rivals, the reality is none of it matters in 2014.
What's at stake here and now is a spot in the Eastern Conference finals, and bragging rights until the inevitable "next time."
Here are three things you need to know before Game 1.
Montreal knows how to flip the script
The Bruins entered the playoffs as the NHL's Presidents' Trophy winners, but the Canadiens did everything they could to keep their Atlantic rivals down during the regular season.
Montreal went 3-1-0 against Boston, including two wins on the road. Going back to the beginning of the lockout-shortened 2013 regular season, the Canadiens have won six of eight against the Bruins (two via shootout), and have proven to be more than capable of throwing their foes off their game in the process.
Case in point: a well-executed hip check delivered by Alexei Emelin on Milan Lucic during the teams' last meeting of the regular season (a 2-1 shootout win for Montreal) that remained front of mind for the Bruins power forward well after the final buzzer.
If the Canadiens can continue to get under Boston's skin and cause them to stray from their game, Montreal may very well continue their run of success against the Bruins.
Deep offensive attacks
The Bruins have won a Stanley Cup and lost in the finals in recent years on the strength of a deep and balanced four-line attack, and the current group was able to average a third-ranked 3.15 goals per game during the regular season, and that's after trading Tyler Seguin (who finished fourth in the league in scoring).
Once again, Boston possesses the ability to put the puck in the net on any given shift. They managed to beat the Red Wings in five games in the first round while benefiting from only two assists from David Krejci (last year's leading scorer in the playoffs), no points from Brad Marchand, and with mainstays Daniel Paille and Chris Kelly on the sidelines.
Patrice Bergeron, Jarome Iginla, and Milan Lucic led the team's forwards in scoring against the Detroit, while Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton, and Zdeno Chara chipped in a combined 11 points from the point. The likes of Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, and Carl Soderberg only serve to add to the team's deep and dangerous attack.
At the same time, the Canadiens have also demonstrated an ability to roll four lines. In four games against the Lightning, all 12 forwards registered at least one point, while Lars Eller, Brendan Gallagher, and the always-dangerous P.K. Subban led the team with five points each.
Surprisingly, Montreal received only two goals combined from Thomas Vanek and Max Pacioretty against Tampa Bay, while Gallagher and Rene Bourque each scored three times.
The addition of Vanek, however, had a playoff meeting with the Bruins written all over it. In 55 career games against Boston, Vanek has scored 30 goals and added 32 assists, racking up more total points versus the Bruins than any other team. For his part, Pacioretty registered 39 goals in the regular season and possesses the ability to find his way to the net against any and all who attempt to keep him in check.
The potential for offense will be present from puck drop to final buzzer, meaning stellar goaltending will be of utmost importance.
Rask vs. Price: Tale of the Tape
The goaltending battle figures to be a key differentiating factor between the two teams, as both Tuukka Rask and Carey Price are coming off outstanding regular seasons.
|Tuukka Rask||Stat||Carey Price|
It's in the playoffs, however, where some separation is created between the two, as evidenced by their respective career postseason numbers.
|Tuukka Rask||Stat||Carey Price|
Rask established himself as an early Conn Smythe candidate by posting a remarkable .961 save percentage against the Red Wings in the first round. Price was solid if not unspectacular for the Canadiens (and didn't really need to be), going 4-0 with a .904 save percentage.
While Rask may have the upper hand in terms of playoff success, Price did survive the pressure-cooker that is starting for and winning a gold medal with Team Canada at the Winter Olympics, an experience that should serve him well as the playoffs continue.
It should also be noted that Rask has traditionally struggled against Montreal, with a career record of 3-10-3 and a .908 save percentage; conversely, Price has posted a 17-8-3 record against the Bruins, with a .919 save percentage.
Add it all up and it would seem as though this matchup is not a matter of whether Price and Rask are up to the task, but rather which goalie can withstand the opposition's attack the longest in the midst of tremendous pressure.
|Game 1: Montreal at Boston||Thursday, May 1||7:30 p.m. ET||NBCSN, CBC|
|Game 2: Montreal at Boston||Saturday, May 3||12:30 p.m. ET||NBC, CBC|
|Game 3: Boston at Montreal||Tuesday, May 6||7 p.m. ET||NBCSN, CBC|
|Game 4: Boston at Montreal||Thursday, May 8||7:30 p.m. ET||NBCSN, CBC|
|Game 5*: Montreal at Boston||Saturday, May 10||TBD||CBC|
|Game 6*: Boston at Montreal||Monday, May 12||TBD||CBC|
|Game 7*: Montreal at Boston||Wednesday, May 14||TBD||CBC|
Feature photo courtesy of Greg M Cooper / reuters