Playoff preview: Bruins-Canadiens

Hockey fans could not ask for much more than a post-season match-up between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens. The Bruins were the Eastern Conference’s tape-to-tape best team, but Montreal presents some issues for the mighty B’s that might act as an equalizer. Both teams are deep with scoring and have the NHL’s top goalies. Both have elite defenseman and proven forces on the power play. On paper, however, it still appears the Bruins have the advantage – but the Canadiens team that hits the ice Thursday night is not the same one that played all year. As HP writer Ryan Wagman noted, moves by the Canadiens at the deadline made them a much tougher team than they were for the majority of the year.

Head-to-head

Montreal won three of four match-ups with the Bruins.

Offensive GVT

Bruins: 38.9 (3rd)

Canadiens -10.1 GVT (21st)

The Bruins are highly-revered for their four-line depth, but the Habs are under-appreciated for running four lines. The acquisition of forward Thomas Vanek – an elite 5-on-5 scorer – allowed Montreal to bump quality forwards down in the order. Danny Briere will log some key fourth line minutes against Boston’s much-praises Campbell line and Brian Gionta will not have to shoulder quite the load he would have otherwise.

Vanek himself will be key. Through with trades from Buffalo to the New York Islanders to Montreal, he somehow still finished seventh in the NHL in even-strength points. The Austrian winger has also been known as a Bruins killer from his time in Buffalo, including a 5-point night last season and a dominant playoff series against the B’s in 2010.

On Boston’s side, their lockdown forwards will look to slow the up-tempo Habs. They have several of the NHL’s best two-way forwards, including Selke finalist Patrice Bergeron. The B’s have improved scoring depth with the acquisition of Reilly Smith and Jarome Iginla in the off-season. And as much as any team in the NHL, their offense begins on the back end with Zdeno Chara’s Dzone dominance and up-and-comer Dougie Hamilton’s ability to drive the puck up ice.

Defensive GVT

Bruins: 15.9 (7th)

Canadiens: -2.0

Like the offensive side, Montreal’s season total GVT is a little deceiving. For most of the year, they played Douglas Murray as a regular defenseman. You could make a case he was the NHL’s worst blue liner this season. The Habs made a sneaky-good move at the deadline acquiring Florida’s Mike Weaver, who is by no means an All-Star, but offers a steady presence and capable puck skills to keep the puck moving from below the red line to center ice. Of course, P.K. Subban, last season’s Norris Trophy winner, will be a huge factor. Like many other offensively minded D-men, Subban will take risks, but when he is at his best, he is a physical presence along the walls and drives play like few others.

On Boston’s side, this might be the deepest defense they’ve had in a few years. Hamilton’s presence was felt in Round 1 against Detroit, especially with his puck skills and skating. He is still maturing, but paired with Norris finalist Chara, they are the most intimidating pair in the East. The 20-year-old will also take pressure off Chara when it comes to handling the puck in the defensive zone. Montreal will, no doubt, try to pressure the 6-foot-9 future Hall of Famer into mistakes as Chicago successfully did last year in the Cup Final.

Goaltending

Bruins: 26.2 (1st)

Canadiens: 18.5

It just does not get any better than this as far as goaltending match-ups go. Rask and Price ranked first and third in save percentage amongst goalies with more than 50 starts. Rask had an unbelievable playoffs in 2013, posting a .943 even-strength save percentage. Price is coming off a gold metal win in Sochi. You can’t really give an edge to either side.

Special teams

Bruins: Power play – 21.7% (3rd) – Penalty kill – 83.6 (8th)

Canadiens: Power play – 17.2% – Penalty kill – 85.1

Montreal’s power play sputtered down the stretch, but Subban is one of the most dynamic 5-on-4 players in the NHL and Vanek is one of the best finishers around the net in the league. For the Bruins, they kicked up their power play with young defenseman Torey Krug handling the puck on the back end. Special teams could have a huge impact on the series.

Key Match-up

Bergeron vs. Montreal’s top line.

The best lockdown center in the East taking on a combination of speed and skill in David Desharnias, Max Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek.

There are about 15 other match-ups you could call “key” including the goalies, Chara vs. Subban and the 4th lines.

Key Stat

109 EV goals for the Bruins, 89 for the Habs during the regular seasons

Yes, the Habs have changed, but the defensive-minded Bruins were also the third best even-strength scoring team in the NHL. The Canadiens will have to find a way to keep up, beat Rask and produce at five-on-five. Tough. Task.

Prediction

Bruins in 6

 

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