Series breakdown: Canadiens (8) vs. Bruins (1)
Regular season series: Boston won 5-0-1
Oct. 15: at Canadiens 4, Bruins 3 (SO)
The Skinny: There's plenty of talk about this being the 32nd playoff meeting between the two rivals -- with Montreal holding a 24-7 series lead -- but what's the point? The Habs aren't dressing Rocket Richard, and Gilles Gilbert won't be waving at 60-foot floaters. These Bruins aren't looking to avenge the humiliations suffered by Dit Clapper and Terry O'Reilly. They're not even thinking about last year's seventh game loss. This team's all about the now. And now's as good a time as any for the Bruins to lay a beating on the Habs.
Conducted masterfully by Claude Julien, the Bruins ran away with the Eastern Conference. Their 51 wins were the most by the franchise since 1971-72, coincidentally (or not) the last time they won the Cup.
Boston enters the playoffs as perhaps the league's most balanced team, featuring seven 20-goal scorers, a physical, mobile defense and hockey's best netminder, in Tim Thomas. Little wonder they toyed with the Canadiens, a team that started off hot (8-1-1) before falling apart midseason, victimized by inconsistent goaltending, an error-prone blueline, a sputtering power play and an utter lack of secondary scoring. When the loss of Robert Lang submarines your offense, you know you've been piecing it together with gum and duct tape.
The Habs showed signs of life when GM Bob Gainey replaced Guy Carbonneau behind the bench, but began reverting to old habits as the season wore down. They'll employ a physical approach to try to knock Boston off its game, but these Bruins are bigger, stronger and faster. This looks like a mismatch.
Spotlight's On: Carey Price. Last season's Ken Dryden is this year's Steve Penney. Though he started off well enough, Price seemed to lose his confidence after getting lit up in the Young Stars Game. Opponents figured out that his glove hand featured a basketball-sized hole and they exploited it mercilessly. He won just seven of his last 24 games, and was used as a chew toy by the Bruins, winning just one of five starts. He'll have to recapture his World Juniors form for Montreal to have a chance.
X-Factor for Canadiens: Tomas Plekanec. The Canadiens are shy on offensive options, with Plekanec standing out as one of just three 20-goal scorers. Problem is, he hasn't done much to stand out lately, notching just one assist in his last 13 games. A notoriously streaky player, the Habs have to hope he's ready to get on a roll.
X-Factor for Bruins: Phil Kessel. Does he have a long memory? The Bruins hope so. Kessel was benched for games 2, 3 and 4 of the Montreal series last spring for what can generously be described as "indifferent" play. He returned this season as a more mature and more determined athlete, but still suffers through bouts of inconsistency. If he shows a willingness to battle down low, the Habs are in trouble.
The Pick: Bruins in five.
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