The Canadiens have won 24 of the first 32 playoff meetings with Boston, but the Bruins swept Montreal the last time they met in 2009.
Montreal has won nine of the 12 regular-season matchups in the last two years, but Boston rolled to a 7-0 win the last time they played less than a month ago.
The past can give clues for what to expect, but, like the phrase popularized by the late, great Joe Strummer, the future is unwritten. So what will it take for the Bruins to pen a new chapter to this rivalry with a happy ending?
Here are five keys for the B’s to beat Montreal:
1. Set tone early
The Bruins haven’t been a great home team in recent years, but they finally seemed to make home ice an actual advantage down the stretch this season. Boston was 7-1-3 in its final 11 games at the Garden in the regular season, including the 7-0 win over the Canadiens on March 24. They’ll need to carry that over to the playoffs and jump on Montreal early in these first two games at home.
The Bruins can’t afford to let Montreal hang around in the series or build any momentum when the series shifts to Montreal. The Habs have been a dominant home team with a 24-11-6 record this year, including winning all three games against the Bruins at the Bell Centre. They struggle a bit on the road, though, with just a 20-19-2 record, including a pair of losses in three trips to the Garden. The Bruins can’t afford to let Montreal steal one of these first two games in Boston and wrest home ice from them.
2. Play physical
It seems simple, but the Bruins have to remember what makes them effective. They can’t get cute and try to match Montreal’s speed and skill. They have to use their superior size and toughness to slow those speedy forwards and wear the undersized Canadiens down.
The Bruins are at their best when they are emotionally involved in the game. Despite the nastiness in the regular-season series, Montreal isn’t likely to play that style and may try to lull Boston to sleep. The Bruins have to find a way to generate their own energy and initiate the physical play, rather than relying on the opponent to bring that edge out of their game as too often happened in the regular season.
3. Stay disciplined
With that said, the Bruins can’t get carried away. Clean, hard hits, an aggressive forecheck and sturdy play in front of the net to keep the Canadiens from crashing the crease are necessary ingredients in any resume for Boston success. Getting out of control and spending too much time in the box, however, will be the Bruins’ undoing if they take things too far.
Montreal’s most dangerous weapon is the power play. The Habs were seventh in the league (19.7 percent) and even more successful against the Bruins, converting 9 of 28 chances (32.1 percent). They also averaged 4.67 power-play chances a game against the Bruins, compared to just 3.53 a game over the course of the full season. The Bruins led the league in 5-on-5 scoring with 177 goals. The Canadiens were 26th in the NHL with just 137 goals. Boston needs to keep this series at even strength as much as possible.
4. Balanced scoring
The top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton carried the Bruins for much of the latter stages of the season. They need to continue that production, but they also need some help. The second line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi was dominant in January and February, but went quiet down the stretch. They need to regain that chemistry to take the pressure off the top line. Rich Peverley started to come on late and Michael Ryder has produced in the playoffs before. That pair, along with newcomer Chris Kelly, also must contribute, while the fourth line, which got double-digit goals from both Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton and some late-season spark from Daniel Paille, will be counted on to chip in as well.
The defense did a better job of picking its spots to jump into the play and will need to continue that aggressiveness when opportunities are there to support the forwards.
5. Power-play production
Unlike Montreal, Boston didn’t have much success on the man-advantage this season. The Bruins ranked just 20th in the league on the power play (16.2 percent) and not even the addition of Tomas Kaberle did much to bring life to that unit. In fact, the Bruins were just 7-for-66 (10.6 percent) in Kaberle’s 24 games with the club, finishing the season with just one goal on 17 chances in their final seven games. They weren’t much better in the head-to-head matchups with Montreal, converting just 3 of 24 chances (12.5 percent) in the six games against the Habs’ seventh-ranked penalty kill.
Special teams are more important than ever in the postseason. The Bruins not only need to find a way to shut down Montreal’s potent power play, but they also must get some production out of their own man-advantages if they want to beat the Canadiens.