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Ahh yes, the second season. A time when wins, losses and, yes, even shootout losses don’t matter.
A time when games start to take on a new intensity, a new sense of urgency and a greater sense of importance. It’s a time when enemies meet, where feuds start and rivalries are reborn.
Which is exactly what these NHL playoffs should bring.
The last, and perhaps the strongest, of the old original six rivalries is set to start once again this week when the number one seeded Montreal Canadiens take on the eighth seeded Boston Bruins.
But first, a little history.
As far back as the 1950s, the Bruins faced the Habs in heated series. They met in the finals three times that decade, with the Habs winning all three.
In 1971 they played an epic seven-game series that went right down to the wire. Led by Bobby Orr, the Bruins were clear favourites to win the Cup that season, posting a 57-14-7 season, by far the best in the league. However, the Canadiens, backstopped by a young Ken Dryden, would win in seven games, the last a 4-2 thriller. They would go on to beat Chicago and win the Cup that season.
In 1977 the two teams met again, the first of two consecutive Finals meetings. The Canadiens would roll over them, sweeping the series. The next year, the Canadiens would win again, this time in six games, two of which went into overtime.
But an alignment in the playoff format would lead to them meeting Stanley Cup Semifinal the next season. This series would go the distance, with neither team taking a stronghold in the series. Neither team lost on home ice for the first six games of the series, forcing a climatic game seven in the Montreal Forum.
And was it ever a classic. All night it was back and forth, with neither team taking a strong lead. But s goal by Rick Middleton gave the Bruins a lead of 4-3 late in the third and the Bruins looked to upset the Canadiens.
However, with victory looking imminent, the Bruins fouled up a line change and took a too many men on the ice penalty in the final minutes of play.
The Canadiens would score on the ensuing power play, forcing overtime, and would score again, putting a dramatic cap on the series. The Canadiens would beat the New York Rangers in the next round, winnng their fourth Cup in a row and their sixth of the decade.
It was the fourteenth time that the Bruins had lost to the Canadiens, and the rivalry increasingly looked one-sided. After all, the Bruins had been a great team in the 1970s. Eight times they had finished with 100 points or more and had won their division seven times. They had won two Stanley Cups and had hall of fame players like Orr, Phil Esposito, Terry O’Reilly and Brad Park. Yet still, they couldn’t past the Canadiens in the playoffs, who dominated the decade.
They wouldn’t meet in the playoffs again until 1984, when they met for the first of four first-round meetings. While the Canadiens would win all four, the Bruins forced a game five in 1985 and lost 1-0.
However, 1988 was a turning point. Meeting in the Adams final – then the second round of the playoffs – they beat the Canadiens in five games. It was the first time they had beaten the Canadiens in the playoffs since 1943 and was the first of four series wins they would have over the next five seasons, including their first ever seventh-game win in 1991.
They met only once more that decade, in a 1994 series that again went seven games.
Since then they have met twice, in 2002 and 2004, with Montreal winning both times.
So, what then of this series? The Bruins sneaked into the playoffs finishing just one win above Carolina for the final spot. Their record, 41-29-12, puts them basically at .500, and they were outscored this season – the only playoff team to have been so.
But in most statistics, their goalie, Tim Thomas ranks higher then Carey Price, the Habs netminder. Thomas won 28 games this season, three of them shutouts, and his save percentage of .921 is the fourth-best in the league. His GAA is lower then Price’s and he’s stopped over 400 more shots, too.
And he’ll need to keep that up against a greay Canadiens offense. Right-winger Alex Kovalev led the team with 35 goals and 84 points. Four players scored 25 or more goals and six had fifty or more points. As a team they scored 262 goals, the most in the league.
However, injuries have taken their toll on them. Saku Koivu is out and Mike Komisarek is questionable. They’re two players the Habs will miss.
If this analysis sounds a little one-sided, that’s because the series mostly will be. It’ll come down to how well Boston’s defence and goaltending can handle the onslaught of Montreal’s multi-tiered offence, not the other way around. If Boston wants to win, they’ll have to keep Montreal on the defensive, where they’re not as sharp.
It’ll be tough, but it’s possible. Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling of a Montreal victory as anything but inevitable, especially given the history involved.