Montreal may be the No. 7 seed, but it'll give Boston all it can handle
Posted: Wednesday April 7, 2004 5:52PM; Updated: Wednesday April 7, 2004 7:15PM
No. 2Boston vs. No. 7Montreal
Montreal has some neat skill that's fun to watch, and this team is no stranger to the upset. Boston though, should be able to control the crucial parts of the ice -- namely in front of both nets -- and that's where the series will be won.
With sharp rookie Michael Ryder and the often-dazzling moves of young Mike Ribeiro complementing some solid veteran forwards, Montreal has excellent playmaking skills. But it is a unit that has to prove it can perform in the tight-checking playoffs. If Boston is without star center Joe Thornton (upper-body injury) for long they'll be seriously compromised. The line of Thornton, Glen Murray and Mike Knuble has carried the Bruins in tough times and, though talented, second-line players such as Sergei Samsonov and Martin Lapointe may not be able to pick up the slack.
Advantage: Depends: Bruins, with a healthy Thornton; Canadiens, with Thornton out.
This will be a battle of size versus finesse. For the Bruins, Hal Gill stands about 6-foot-11 in skates, Nick Boynton is entering his prime as an unyielding physical force and this season's acquisitions, Sergei Gonchar and Jiri Slegr, have added needed offense from the point. Montreal's Sheldon Souray has emerged as a top defenseman-he was a Norris Trophy candidate before being slowed by injuries late in the season-and teammate Patrice Brisebois rarely makes a mistake. But the Canadiens' corps doesn't scare anyone
Rookie Andrew Raycroft (sporting a stingy 2.05 goals against average) has met every challenge for the Bruins and will probably walk off with the Calder Trophy. Montreal's Jose Theodore, who was the league MVP two years ago, has been nothing better than average since. But when the Habs' netminder is on, he's one of the best keepers in the conference
Adding Gonchar and Michael Nylander has jump-started the Bruins' power play but Montreal does its best work with open ice -- power plays constituting the only time Yanic Perreault shows up these days -- and the Bruins' penalty-killing unit can be beat
Boston has grown to love rookie coach Mike Sullivan who is a mere 35-years-old and a Massachusetts native. And what's not to love; the Bruins have been playing at peak ability all season. In the meantime, Claude Julien has kept Montreal on an even keel, pushing a club with few standout stars to play well as team. Both sides have experienced assistants.
Two years ago the eighth-seeded Canadiens, riding a hot Theodore, upset the top-seeded Bruins in the first round. You better believe Les Habs think they can do it again
A much closer series than a two-versus-seven matchup would suggest. Boston, with its superior size, pulls it out in seven games.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Kostya Kennedy takes sides each week at SI.com.