Bruins look for spark in home-and-home series against the Canadiens

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By Mike Miccoli, Boston Bruins Correspondent

Remember the last time the Montreal Canadiens were in Boston? Sure, you do. It was overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The Bruins had come from behind in the series, overcoming a two-game deficit to force a final and deciding game. Of course, it went to overtime.

With just over five minutes played in overtime, Adam McQuaid pinched down-low in the offensive zone, blocking P.K. Subban’s effort to clear the puck. Milan Lucic then left his skates to bat-down the deflected puck onto his stick at the bottom of the circle. He went around Tomas Plekanec and Hal Gill’s poke-check attempt to find a wide-open Nathan Horton who had cycled to the top of the zone. Horton received the pass, shifted further down to the slot and unleashed a rocket of shot that went by four Canadiens–five, if you include Montreal goaltender Carey Price.

The Bruins would advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals while clearing the Canadiens’ schedule for the rest of summer. It was playoff hockey at it’s best. It was the perfect cultivation of a season filled with story lines. It was last season.

Now, neither Boston (3-5) nor Montreal (2-5-2) have been very impressive to start the 2011-12 NHL season. The Canadiens have lost six of their last seven games but snapped that winless streak with a big 5-1 win over the Flyers on Wednesday, while the Bruins have been unable to put consecutive wins, and consistent efforts, together. The Bruins have struggled offensively, scoring 18 goals in eight games, whereas the Canadiens put up 23 in nine games.

And the power-play? Yeah, that’s bad too. Montreal is 27th in the NHL on the man-advantage, scoring only four times in 37 attempts (10.8%). The Bruins aren’t much better but have scored four goals in 31 power-play attempts (12.9%), good enough (or poor enough) for 22nd in the league.

Needless to say, both teams could use some wins and what better way to turn the season around by beating one of your biggest rivals?

For the Bruins, getting a full 60-minute effort from the team has been the challenge. It should be noted however, that the team’s best games have been against clubs that the Bruins have a history with. Out of eight games, the B’s worst efforts have come against teams that Boston is indifferent towards.

Think about this: the Bruins have dropped games and put up uninspired efforts against teams that they either have no interest in or don’t see often enough to muster passion towards  (Colorado, San Jose and two against Carolina), with the first loss of the season against Philadelphia being somewhat of an exception.

While this is an awful habit to get into, the Bruins seem to take their game to that next level in contests that are driven by conflict. It was the DNA of the last year’s championship team and with little turnover, it’s looking like old habits may start to re-appear. It’s no secret that the Bruins’ best games of the year so far have come against two Original Six teams, one being a division rival, and a team that they battled all the way to a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Montreal Canadiens could be a wake-up call and a step in the right direction for the Bruins for a few reasons. The Bruins should be able to take advantage of their long break without playing any games (they last played on Saturday night) and capitalize on the fact that Montreal is coming off of an emotional win last night.

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The hatred and passion are already present. It’s important for the Bruins to come out strong and get on the scoreboard first; something they have been able to do only once (against Tampa Bay) in their first eight games. If Boston is the more physical team and is able to state that from the drop of the puck, it should be able to both slow the team down and take away Montreal’s momentum.

Ironically enough, it’s old friend Max Pacioretty that’s leading the Canadiens in scoring with four goals and five assists in nine games. Shutting down the talented winger, much like they did against Phil Kessel and the Maple Leafs last week, will be key for Boston. Pacioretty has put up excellent numbers when playing against the Bruins, having scored four goals and assisted on three others in eight lifetime games against the B’s. He’s been one of the brightest spots in an otherwise bleak Montreal offense, so far. What better way to get vengeance on the team that cut his season short last year? By lighting the lamp.

Offensively, the Bruins need to test Price early and often. His performance dropped a bit from last season but his career numbers against Boston have always been stellar; Price is 13-4-2 all-time against the Bruins, with a 2.72 and .915 save percentage. Great numbers to have against a division rival however, the losses have been especially bad for Price.

In the four games lost in regulation, Price has allowed 22 goals, in the other 13 games played against the Bruins, he’s only allowed 30. When the Bruins beat Price, they beat him badly, scoring eight, five, three and six goals in those instances. If the Bruins can’t figure out Price, he’ll continue to be his usual stingy self in net.

Boston and Montreal contests against one another are usually just fun hockey games to watch. For both teams needing a win to jump-start their season, it might up the ante a bit more. The task may seem even more grim for the Bruins who haven’t won their first meeting with the Canadiens since October 28, 2003.

This just got even more interesting.

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