As the Montreal Canadiens prepare to face an all-too-familiar opponent in the Boston Bruins Thursday night at TD Garden, one safe assumption fans can make heading into this series is it will be a classic, as it always is when these two teams clash.
But getting caught up in the rivalry is something the Canadiens will try to avoid heading into their Round-2 matchup against the Bruins. There is only one thing on their minds, and that is booking their ticket to the Eastern Conference Final.
This will be the 34th time the Canadiens and Bruins meet in the playoffs; a record among North American franchises. It is no secret these two teams hate each other. However, if the Canadiens are to have any chance of defeating the “Big Bad Bruins,” they are going to need to stick to the game plan.
Keys to victory
1. Power play
Boston is a resilient team. Whether up by three or trailing a game by two goals, the Bruins play the same game style. They are a confident team, and rightfully so. Their lineup up front is arguably the deepest in the NHL and their back end finds ways to slow down the game and clog up the neutral zone, making it difficult for the opponent to penetrate the offensive zone. And, even if the opponent does manage to penetrate the zone, the Bruins have a brick wall, also known as Tuukka Rask, to keep the puck out of the net.
Now, these are all intimidating thoughts for Habs fans. However, the Bruins do have one weakness, and that is discipline.
For some reason or another, Montreal is in Boston’s head. The Bruins have proven to be a very composed team against most opponents. But when it comes time to playing their hated rivals, they cannot seem to stay out of the box. That has proven costly for the Bruins against Montreal in the past and, if Boston runs into the same problems in this series, the Habs must make them pay on the power play.
The power play has had its struggles, but it did show signs of improvement toward the end of the first round against the Tampa Bay Lightning. If the Canadiens can build off that and continue to improve the power play, they will give themselves a much-needed boost in this series.
2. Transition game
Another element that is critical for Montreal to be successful in this series is their speed. The Canadiens must play to their strengths; that includes avoiding the physical game when possible.
The Habs are a small, fast team. Marc Bergevin has slowly started to change that identity, but Montreal is still nowhere near matching the physicality the Bruins can bring. If the Canadiens want any chance of winning this series, they are going to need to create chances off the rush.
Sustained pressure is ideal, but that will not always be possible against a defense as good as the Bruins. The Canadiens will have to count on their ability to move the puck up the ice and use their transition game to their advantage to score some timely goals.
Some skeptics say the only way to win in the playoffs is to play physical and the Canadiens cannot possibly win without hitting. This is simply not true. The key to winning games is playing to your strengths. Just ask the Chicago Blackhawks.
In Game 5 against the St. Louis Blues, the Blackhawks were outhit 54-17. Similar to Montreal, Chicago is not a particularly big team, but dominates the opponent with speed and skill. They used that to their advantage and it paid off, as they controlled the pace of Game 5 and went on to win a crucial match in a series that could have gone either way.
Montreal must not get caught up in the physical play. If they play to their strengths (transition), they will give themselves a chance to win every night.
This is pretty self explanatory.
Carey Price will need to be one of, if not Montreal’s best player on the ice to have any chance of beating Boston. The Bruins have a tremendous amount of depth and can run four scoring lines. Price will need to be on the top of his game and come up with some pretty big saves when the score is close.
He is up against a very worthy opponent in Tuukka Rask, who has struggled against the Canadiens in the past. But all that gets thrown out the window when the puck drops at 19:30 ET Tuesday night.
With that said, the greatest rivalry in all of sports is set to do battle in just over 24 hours. Just drop the puck already.