Hockey players are creatures of habit. Most put on their equipment the same way every day, always apply the tape to their sticks in the same fashion and go through the same pregame rituals before each contest.
Come playoff time, they also quickly fall into a routine of playing every other day for as long as they can stay alive in epic chase for the Cup.
The Bruins and Canadiens won't get that luxury in their first-round playoff series this year. Their Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup begins with the usual pattern, opening this Thursday in Boston, with Game 2 on Saturday and Game 3 in Montreal on Monday.
But then things get a little strange. The clubs have to wait until next Thursday for the second game in Montreal, with Game 4 pushed back a day because the Bell Centre is occupied on Wednesday for a Rush concert.
At least the Bruins will get an extra day of the warm hospitality of the Montreal fans and media. Actually, the Bruins aren't likely to stay in Montreal between those games. They may not return all the way home to Boston, but they will look to escape some of the glare of the Montreal spotlight. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli mentioned that possibility during his conference call on Monday afternoon, while also downplaying the significance of the odd scheduling for the series.
"I'm not really concerned with it," Chiarelli said. "I've been part of different schedules where it's not the traditional every other day. The two-day gap between Games 3 and 4, we may bring the team somewhere else just to get out of the Montreal milieu, so to speak, the frenzy there. We're not sure if we will or we won't, but we're looking at it. But as far as the two-day gap and the back-to-back following that, it's just something that you deal with. You tailor your practices, you tailor your game plans accordingly."
If the series goes the distance, there will be another two-day gap between Game 5 in Boston on Saturday, April 23 and Game 6 in Montreal on Tuesday, April 26 because the Bell Centre is booked on Monday, April 25 for a Lady Gaga concert. Perhaps more disconcerting, however, is that Game 7, if necessary, will be back in Boston the very next night on Wednesday, April 27.
The idea of forcing these bitter rivals to play a deciding Game 7 without a day off after what is sure to be an intense and exhausting first six games seems like exceptionally poor planning, even for the NHL. It would be a shame to see the latest chapter in this rivalry decided by a miscue caused by fatigue. Both sides are sure to be beat up enough if it goes the full seven games without forcing them to settle it with no rest.
And this certainly is the kind of series that promises to drain both sides with the bitter baggage of past clashes they bring into the encounter. The Bruins and Habs have met 32 times already in the playoffs, with Montreal winning 24 times. This year, the Canadiens won four of the six regular-season matchups, but the Bruins prevailed 7-0 in the final meetings. Prior to that, they combined for 182 penalty minutes in a clash at the Garden. The final matchup in Montreal featured Zdeno Chara hitting Max Pacioretty into a stanchion between the benches, leading to outrage across Quebec that has barely subsided a month later and a criminal investigation by Montreal authorities that remains open.
"Obviously there's a lot of emotion in this series from both teams based on the historic nature of the rivalry, based on the recent history of the rivalry," Chiarelli said. "This year there's obviously been some well-publicized stuff between the two teams. I know our team will be emotionally motivated."
It's just a shame the schedule couldn't have been arranged to maximize the performances those emotions could produce in the coming weeks.
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