Now is not the time for complacency for the Montreal Canadiens as they come face to face with what will be their toughest challenge yet. The Habs head to Beantown to meet the Boston Bruins for the 34th time in the Stanley Cup playoffs in what is arguably one of the greatest rivalries in all of sport. Transcending the ages, this is one rivalry where no matter where either team has stood in the NHL through the regular season all bets are off and everyone expects a long, hard series. Yet amid the excitement of another battle between good and evil, there are certainly a few things the Canadiens must learn from their sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning if they want to even have a hope of toppling the beasts of the east and moving forward in the playoffs.
A Battle of Inches
Special teams will play an integral factor in either a Boston or Montreal series victory, and Boston is coming into the second round with the best power play of any team currently in the playoffs, with a penalty kill only second to Chicago. Meanwhile Montreal has struggled mightily with its power play through the end of the regular season and heading into the playoffs and while the lone two power play goals Montreal scored against Tampa Bay were pivotal, especially the series clinching power play goal by Max Pacioretty, Montreal will need to drastically improve its special teams if it wants to go further than the second round. A penalty kill that was one the 4th best by the time the regular season ended is now tied with the New York Rangers at the very bottom of teams in the playoffs, only surpassing the now eliminated Detroit Red Wings in effectiveness.
The last time these two teams met back on April 22nd it was the special teams victory which allowed Montreal to end Boston’s amazing 12 game winning streak in the shootout, each team allowing one power play goal until that point. Yet that penalty kill suffered and has fallen to an abysmal state in these playoffs, going from a 85.1% success rate to 71.4% after the first round with Tampa. With the extended time off Montreal had as the first team to dispatch its first round opponent, one can hope that these things were a focus during their break between rounds.
Certainly, discipline will be a key factor in this series for both teams. Montreal has a way of getting under the skin of the big bad Bruins, so any Habs fan will be hoping and biting their nails that the likes of Alexei Emelin and Brendan Gallagher will continue to be a thorn in the Bruins side without going over the edge. Let Boston react, let Boston go too far and let them forget their game plan and lose their discipline. Coupled with a resurgent power play, Montreal can make them pay so long as they remember the play stops after the whistle.
Keep Calm and Carey On
What should be the most intriguing battle between these two teams is the battle of their respective goaltenders, Carey Price and Tuukka Rask. Rask, one of the three Vezina finalists has posted a goals against average of 1.16 and a save percentage of .961% through the first round of the playoffs against Detroit, leading all goaltenders in the playoffs in these categories. Carey Price it could be argued faced a much better offensively capable team in Tampa Bay than Rask did with Detroit, and while Price looked shaky in game 1 he held the fort down and made the much needed timely saves his team needed to lead Montreal to its first sweep of a team since its last cup run in 1993.
Despite this, Carey Price will definitely need to be better than his 2.33 goals against average and .904% save percentage. All the signs point to Carey Price being ready to step up to the challenge of leading Nos Glorieux to victory over the Boston Bruins as he did in his rookie season. While Tuukka Rask has a growing reputation of getting unhinged against the Canadiens, that is not what should be counted on as Montreal has yet to face the playoff edition of Tuukka Rask. What should be counted on is Carey Price continuing to make the right saves, the big key saves that can swing the momentum in a game and a series. Price knows this is his time to prove his doubters wrong, some of whom still doubt that Carey Price can lead the Habs to their 25th Stanley Cup.
This has been a season of battles for Montreal, and while everyone looks to Boston as the greatest threat in the Eastern Conference no one has noticed Montreal fly under the radar with a 15-3-1 record since their dramatic comeback victory over the Ottawa Senators. Many look at that moment as the key turning point in Montreal’s season with a team that is driven by character, courage and the attitude and fortitude to keep fighting no matter the score. There is no quit to these Habs, and these wouldn’t be a Stanley Cup playoffs without the battle of good versus evil. Bleu, Blanc et Rouge versus Black and Gold.
Montreal versus Boston, the rite of springtime.