First-round breakdown: B's vs. Habs
Ah, memories of the old Adams Division. The NHL dropped divisional playoffs in 1993, but lo and behold, these Original Six rivals meet for a fourth time in seven postseasons. The Canadiens have won the past three encounters (2002, 2004, 2008) and 24 of 31 playoff series between the two teams. It doesn't seem to matter where either club is in the standings, either; the top-seeded Bruins were stunned by the eighth-seeded Canadiens in 2002 and as the No. 2 seed in 2004.
All of which has some people in Beantown just a tad concerned despite their overwhelming statistical advantage this season and overall better squad in all areas. Mind you, the 1 versus 8 matchup isn't exactly David versus Goliath. Just last season, when the teams met in the first round of the playoffs, the seeds were reversed as Montreal hung on for a tough, seven-game series win.
The Eastern Conference remains a wide-open affair. Boston, however, won five of six encounters between the two teams during the regular season.
On the Bruins' side of things, defenseman Andrew Ference (undisclosed injury) may not start the series, while center Patrice Bergeron (undisclosed injury) is considered day-to-day and could be ready for Game 1.
2. Special teams. It might surprise many to find out that, despite the gigantic gap in points when it comes to the standings, Boston and Montreal are pretty closely matched up in special teams. The Bruins have the upper hand on the power play, but the Habs edge Boston on the penalty kill. And it's worth noting that ever since Mathieu Schneider arrived on the scene in February, Montreal's power play has really taken off. Just look at Thursday's game in Boston, where the Canadiens used three power-play goals (one by Schneider) to earn the point in the standings they needed to make the playoffs. There's not much to choose between the two clubs in special teams, and that's a fact worth remembering.
3. Five-on-five scoring. Here, it's no contest. The Bruins were the second-best team in the NHL in this department this season, a testimony to their balanced scoring and depth on all four forward lines. The Canadiens were middle of the pack in five-on-five scoring and haven't come close to matching Boston's balance up front. If the refs keep their whistles in their pockets, it should greatly advantage the Bruins.
4. Physical play. Another big edge to the Bruins. They're a big, mean squad that routinely pushed the Canadiens around in all six regular-season matchups. The Habs, well, they're just soft. Skilled, yes but soft. Whether in battles for loose pucks or positioning in front of the net, the Bruins should continue to win out in most of those situations. But there is one caveat: The Bruins must control their emotions. Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara and Shawn Thornton all crossed the line Thursday in the 5-4 overtime win over the Canadiens, all taking stupid penalties, which helped Montreal grab its biggest point of the season. We're a big fan of Lucic, in particular, but he has to play with his head on straight.
5. The ghosts from the old Montreal Forum. You knew we had to mention them, right? We don't know what it is about Montreal and Boston, but the Canadiens seem to pull a rabbit out of the hat every time these two teams meet in the playoffs. The ghosts were certainly present in 2002 and 2004, when the higher-seeded Bruins somehow got beat again. Given how one-sided the series has been this season in favor of the Bruins, and given that many people are picking Boston to go the Cup finals, this series will seriously test the ghosts from the old Forum. If the Habs steal Game 1 in Boston, you know the ghosts might be back.
• Montreal: Alexei Kovalev had a topsy-turvy season, but ended up with 17 points (9-8) in his final 10 regular-season games. Second-line center Tomas Plekanec saw his production dip by 30 points this season, from a career 69 last season to only 39. Brutal. He enters the playoffs without a single point in his past eight games.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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