The second round begins, fittingly, with two storied Original Six franchises renewing their bitter, bruising rivalry for the 34th time. Montreal holds an overall edge of 24-9, but Boston, which won the Stanley Cup in 2011, has advanced from seven of their last 11 postseason encounters.
Regular season recaps
Montreal wins series, 3-1
Dec. 5: Montreal 2, Boston 1
Jan. 30: Montreal 4, Boston 1
Mar. 12: Boston 4, Montreal 1
Mar. 24: Montreal 2, Boston 1 (SO)
Keys to a Bruins victory
The formula is simple for the Bruins: get pucks to the net. Boston has finished in the top-five for shots fired during each of the past four seasons and the B's like to create their opportunities in bulk, using their size and strength to generate second and third chances off the rebound. All eyes will be on Milan Lucic, but the difference makers could be Carl Soderberg and Justin Florek on the third line. Both gave the Red Wings fits with their net drive in the first round. Patrice Bergeron was world class against Detroit--there aren't 10 forwards better than him at this time of year--but David Krejci has to be more effective. After leading the playoffs in scoring during two of the past three seasons, he was held to just two assists by the tight checking Wings.
Even without Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid, the B's have a depth advantage on a defense corps that was the best in the Eastern Conference. Their blueliners are poised, smart and make it very tough for the opposition to get good looks. Dougie Hamilton was a revelation in the first round with his poise and timing. Tory Krug can create offense off the rush at even strength or on the power play, and Kevan Millar is a big moment waiting to happen. He keeps it simple, but can impact a game with a big hit or timely block.
Ultimately, though, it'll come down to goaltending. Tuukka Rask was terrific in his last two starts against the Habs, allowing just two goals on 58 shots, but he's struggled against them in the past. Rebound control will be key.
Keys to a Canadiens victory
Netminder Carey Price is up against the Vezina Trophy favorite, so he'll need to put a very average first-round performance (.904 save percentage) behind him. He can be better, as his Sochi gold medal and career bests in save percentage (.927) and GAA (2.32) attest, but if he falters, the Habs have a proven Bruins-killer in backup Peter Budaj. They have another one up front in the deadline acquisition of Thomas Vanek, who has 30 goals and 62 points in 55 career games against Boston. Playing on the top line alongside Max Pacioretty (39 goals during the regular season) and David Desharnais, Vanek could be the game-breaker that Montreal needs. Rene Bourque was barely recognizable in the first round. He tied for the team lead with three goals while playing a robust power forward game. Can he keep it up? No such questions for Brendan Gallagher, who led the Canadiens in scoring (five points) and number of Lightning players annoyed (all of 'em) in the first round. He'll be a factor.
On the back end, Alexei Emelin brings a hint of menace that will keep Boston's forwards on high alert, and P.K. Subban can electrify with his play at both ends of the ice...if he maintains his discipline. That'll be an issue for this entire team. The Habs were shorthanded just seven times against Tampa Bay, but allowed two goals on those chances (a 71.4 percent kill rate). Meanwhile, Boston feasted on the power play vs. the Wings, scoring six goals on 16 opportunities for a league-leading 37.5 percent success rate.
Bruins in 6. I don't know what it is about the B's, but there always seems to be a good reason to bet against them. In this case, their history against the Habs seems to work pretty well...but I just can't do it. It's time to give Boston its due, to recognize the depth, experience and system that made this team the league's best during the regular season. The Bruins give the opposition so little that, while they might lose a game or two, it's hard to see the Habs beating them four-out-of-seven. Look for Boston's strength down the middle to be the difference.
(All times Eastern; * if necessary)
Thursday, May 1: 7:30 p.m. Montreal at Boston NBCSN, CBC, RDS
Saturday, May 3: 12:30 p.m. Montreal at Boston NBC, CBC, RDS
Tuesday, May 6: 7 p.m. Boston at Montreal CBC, RDS, NBCSN
Thursday, May 8: 7:30 p.m. Boston at Montreal CBC, RDS, NBCSN
*Saturday, May 10: TBD Montreal at Boston CBC, RDS
*Monday, May 12: TBD Boston at Montreal CBC, RDS
*Wednesday, May 14: TBD Montreal at Boston CBC, RDS