After a decisive 5-2 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday at the Bell Centre, the Montreal Canadiens enter a five-day break, and are scheduled to return to practice on Friday in Brossard. The mini-vacation of sorts comes at an ideal time in the season, as the Canadiens will face the division-rival Boston Bruins three times in eight days beginning Saturday night on home ice.
Most Important Stretch of the Habs Season
For a team that currently finds themselves 13 points out of the final playoff spot in the Atlantic division, this stretch of the season presents itself as the most important of the year thus far.
In between matchups against the Bruins, the Canadiens will face off versus the New York Islanders and the Washington Capitals, two Metropolitan division teams who are ahead of Montreal in the standings. This will be another opportunity to regain ground in the Eastern conference playoff picture, as they are seven points out of the second and final wild-card position.
“When we get back [from the break], we’ve got a real good challenge ahead of us,” said head coach Claude Julien following the victory on Sunday. “Hopefully we’re up to it and take advantage of it.”
Julien, who was fired by the Bruins on Feb 7, 2017, will face the team he coached to a Stanley Cup championship in 2011 for the first time on Saturday. While it will be an important personal moment for the Canadiens bench boss, he remains focused on the task at hand: getting the team he currently coaches back into contention.
“I don’t want it to be about me. I want it to be about our team winning a hockey game for all the right reasons” assured Julien. “That’s the way I look at it. Those things don’t excite me or motivate me more. I just want to win the next game as much as I wanted to win [against the Canucks].”
Montreal vs. Boston: A Fierce Rivalry
The Canadiens will have their hands full against a Bruins teams that owns a record of 23-10-7. Brad Marchand, who leads Boston with 23 assists and 40 points, is part of one of the best lines in the National Hockey League. His linemates, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron, have 39 and 32 points, respectively.
There is no shortage of talented rookies on their roster, either. Charlie McAvoy is third in scoring for first-year defencemen with 21 points, while Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk are each in the top 16 in scoring for rookies, with 30 and 21 points, respectively.
Goaltender Tuukka Rask is 14-8 with a goals-against average of 2.23, a save percentage of .920, and has recorded two shutouts in 27 appearances this season, compared to Carey Price, whose record is 13-14, with a goals-against average of 2.89, a .911 save percentage, and one shutout in 29 games played.
“We’re still in a little bit of a hole here,” said Brendan Gallagher. “It’s going to be important for us to take care of ourselves. We’ve got a good team in the Bruins coming in right after the break. We’ve got to be ready for that challenge.”
In the past 10 regular season games between the two teams, the Canadiens are 4-4-1, with the Bruins winning the previous three matchups. In that span, Boston has outscored Montreal 23-21, including a 4-0 blowout on Feb 13, 2017.
The rivalry is not nearly as fierce as it was during the days when PK Subban played for the Canadiens and Milan Lucic for the Bruins, but the battle between the two original six teams remains one of the most intense in the NHL. The many playoff confrontations in years past have certainly played a part in why there remains a major dislike among them.
“Whenever you play a team in the playoffs and play them for seven games, you’re going to hate them no matter what,” said Gallagher in an interview with Darren Dreger alongside Marchand in 2016. “With the history and the tradition that’s comes with that rivalry, it’s special to be a part of. You’re almost groomed to hate each other.”
“You do learn to hate each other,” added Marchand.
Canadiens Not Quitting Just Yet
According to Sports Club Stats, Montreal has a slim 2.5 percent chance of making the playoffs. While most Canadiens fans have given up hope, general manager Marc Bergevin and his team continue to believe.
“I’m a fighter, and I’ve heard my coaches and players say the same thing,” said Bergevin. “We’re going to keep fighting until the end.”
The Canadiens would be wise to use their time off to rest and recover, because the big fight starts on Saturday night.
I cover the Montreal Canadiens and Laval Rocket for The Hockey Writers. I am currently a student at the University of Concordia studying journalism in the hopes of one day becoming a full-time sports reporter. I have previously covered the Indianapolis Colts of the National Football League for Pro Football Spot.