For the 33rd time, Original Six rivals Boston and Montreal will meet in the playoffs. The Canadiens have won 24 of the first 32 meetings, but Boston did sweep them the last time the clubs met in 2009. How will this year's encounter go? Well, that's the main subject of the first playoff edition of the Bruins Mailbag.
As always, I've done my best to answer as many of your questions as possible in this week's mailbag. I'd like to thank all the readers who sent in questions and apologize in advance if I wasn't able to get to yours. Please keep submitting your questions and I'll get to as many of them as I can as we continue on in the postseason.
Is there anybody on the Bruins roster surprising you, as far as being a bigger factor on the ice, locker room, etc.? Is there anyone who is that little bit of "spark" to help the B's crush the Habs?
There have been a number of surprises this season. Brad Marchand deservedly took home the 7th Player Award for the kind of unexpected contributions you're talking about, and Tim Thomas' rebound year, Adam McQuaid's development and Shawn Thornton's newfound scoring touch also leap to mind right away.
But the player I think who could be the real X-factor in the postseason is Gregory Campbell. Not a lot was expected of Campbell when he came to Boston as part of the deal for Nathan Horton, but he's been a huge asset. He's contributed in all areas with 13 goals, 16 assists and 11 fighting majors, and while not an especially vocal guy, he is very well respected in the room. He's never played in an NHL playoff game after spending the first five years of his career in Florida, but he has the type of game that should thrive in the postseason, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do on that stage.
Hey Doug, do you know if NESN will be televising any of the playoff games or if they're all going to be on Versus?
–Eric, Shrewsbury, Mass.
Don't worry, Eric, you won't have to look anywhere else for your playoff fix. NESN will be airing every game of the Montreal series. Versus will be showing some of the games to viewers outside of the New England region, but in these parts, NESN will have exclusive coverage of all the games against the Canadiens.
Doug, how do you anticipate [Brad] Marchand to play in the playoffs? If he does not fulfill expectations, do you think Claude Julien should move him down to the fourth line or will he have patience and let him try to find his game? And also do you think he should be on the PP?
All indications are that Julien will open the postseason with the same line combinations that ended the regular season. That means Marchand will stay with Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi on the second line, and Daniel Paille, Campbell and Thornton will remain together on the fourth line. That's the best chance for the kind of balanced attack the Bruins will need.
With the way Paille has come on late in the season, that fourth line is a much greater threat than most teams' fourth units. The Marchand-Bergeron-Recchi line cooled after going on such a great run when they were put together in January, but they've shown they can create chances and have good chemistry, so Julien will show some patience with them. Marchand didn't have a point in the final four games of the season, but he was 2-4-6 over the previous six games, so he had broken out of the slump he was in before his suspension. He's also been getting time on the second power-play unit of late, and that will probably continue, especially with Tyler Seguin likely a scratch to start the playoffs, as Seguin was also beginning to get more power-play time.
I heard a sports person mention on a sports program that there cannot be any fighting in the Stanley Cup playoff games. This can't be true, can it?
I don't think you should expect to see a lot of fights in the playoffs, even in a heated rivalry series like Boston-Montreal, but the rules are the same as the regular season, so there's nothing outlawing the odd scrap from happening. Fights are scarce in the postseason because of the stakes involved and the fear of taking an extra penalty. Fights can also swing momentum, so teams that are leading, especially on the road, often won't engage, in an effort to prevent the opposition from sparking their team and getting the crowd involved with a bout. Many teams also scratch their enforcers in the playoffs because of the reduced role of fighting, which continues the vicious cycle of further limiting fights.
I've also noticed that in recent years the linesmen appear to get involved much quicker to prevent fights from breaking out in the playoffs. Add in the automatic fines and suspensions for instigating fights in the final five minutes, and you eliminate the old "message-sending" fights that used to occur frequently at the end of games early in series. So you can see why fighting is less of a factor in the postseason.
But fear not, it hasn't been completely eliminated yet, and judging by the regular-season encounters between these clubs this year, the Bruins-Canadiens series might just be one of the ones to stir up a scrap or two.
My question to you is, am I the only person who seems to have noticed that once [Milan] Lucic got his 30th [goal] he seemed to disappear from the type of play that got him 30 goals? He has been non-existent in physical play, non-existent in net-front presence. Just seems to me that he should be trying harder to keep up the good habits for the playoffs not resting.
–Chris L., Hooksett, N.H.
There's no question that Lucic slumped a bit coming down the stretch. He didn't have a goal in his final 10 games after scoring his 30th on March 22 against New Jersey. And you are also right that he did get away from his trademark physical game in the final games, which usually goes hand in hand with his offensive production, as his hits and fights open up space for himself and his linemates. He dropped the gloves with Toronto tough guy Jay Rosehill in a marathon bout on March 31, but also had no hits in four of his last five games. It wasn't all bad, though. He did collect seven assists in those final 10 games and unlike last year, he heads into this postseason completely healthy.
Given his track record in the playoffs, from being the Memorial Cup MVP in his final junior season to his strong showings the past two years here in Boston, I don't have any worries about Lucic being able to elevate his game again once the playoffs start. In fact, he's one player who would appear likely to benefit the most from playing the Canadiens, as those rivalry games with Montreal bring out the best in all aspects of his game.
In the six games against the Habs this season, Lucic had 4-5-9 totals to go along with a plus-9 rating, 18 PIMs and 13 hits. In 10 playoff games versus Montreal in 2008 and 2009, Lucic had 2-3-5 totals and was a plus-3 with 35 PIMs. I would expect him to add to the totals in all those categories over the course of the next couple of weeks.
The Bruins last year did not do too well playing before the playoffs but as soon as they started playing in the playoffs, they hit a whole new gear and looked like a top-three team. My question is do you think they will hit a new gear again even after having an awesome season? Will they do better against the Canadiens in the playoffs?
The Bruins struggled for much of the middle of last season, but they actually closed very strong with a late run to secure a playoff spot. They went 9-4-1 over their last 14 games, including 4-0-1 in the final five, and carried that momentum into the playoffs against Buffalo. This year, they never hit the depths of last year's midseason swoon or ever had their playoff spot in jeopardy, but they did once again finish strong with a 7-3-1 mark in their final 11 games. There is still room for improvement, particularly on special teams, and postseason play always requires a team to raise its game to a new level, but the Bruins appear to be heading into the playoffs with some solid momentum.
If the coach isn't asked back for next season, do you see the GM walking with him? Do you think Ted Nolan would fit here?
It's much too early to speculate on any changes of that nature. What do you say we give Claude Julien and Peter Chiarelli at least until the playoffs actually start before trying to run them out of town?
Personally, I think Julien has gotten a bad rap from a lot of fans. He's an easy target, but look at how far the team has come under his watch. Is everybody's memory so short that they already forget the horrors of the Mike Sullivan and Dave Lewis eras? Maybe it would be nice to block those last-place finishes from our memories, but I had to cover those teams and remember all too well how they put together a formula that will certainly never work in Boston by being both bad and boring.
That said, if the Bruins do suffer another early exit this year, then certainly changes could come and no one is completely safe. Julien has already outlasted the life expectancy of most NHL coaches with four seasons here, and Chiarelli has already gotten one mulligan in replacing Lewis with Julien after just one year.
I don't think Ted Nolan is a likely option, to answer your question. He's got a lot a baggage and his last stint in the NHL with the Islanders wasn't particularly successful. I think the Bruins would look elsewhere if they decide to make a change, but I'm not convinced they'll be looking at all, and I know it's certainly not on their minds as they prepare for the start of the playoffs.