Michel Therrien: Canadiens Playing Against Best Team In NHL Right Now

Michel TherrienBOSTON — The Montreal Canadiens like their chances of beating the Bruins in Round 2 of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.

After all, the Habs were 3-1 against their Original Six rivals during the regular season, including wins in both of their games at TD Garden.

But they also understand the B’s represent an incredibly difficult challenge given their high level of skill and extraordinary depth.

“We’re playing against the best team,” Habs head coach Michel Therrien said after his team prepared for Thursday night’s Game 1 at TD Garden with an optional practice. “Underdog or not, the Boston Bruins are the best team in the league right now. We understand that it’s a huge challenge not only for us, but all the teams that play the Bruins this year.”

Similar to the Detroit Red Wings, whom the Bruins eliminated in a five-game first-round series, the Canadiens use speed, quickness and a high level of skill to generate offense and dominate puck possession. In fact, Montreal ranks fourth among all 16 playoff teams with a 56.2 corsi-for percentage. This means the Canadiens consistently out-shoot their opponents and, as a result, spend a lot of time in the attacking zone with possession of the puck. This success allows Montreal to dictate the tempo of the game and eliminate any physical advantages its opponent might have.

“I think we match up great against them depth-wise, but obviously they’re a good team,” Canadiens forward Rene Bourque said after Thursday’s skate. “Our team game is speed. We want to carry over what we did against Tampa and use our speed, chips the pucks by their defensemen and take advantage of them down low with our speed. That’s what we need to do so be successful. That’s where a lot of our goals came from last series.”

Detroit didn’t receive much depth scoring against Boston. Second- and third-line Red Wings forwards such as Gustav Nyquist, Daniel Alfredsson, Tomas Tatar and Johan Franzen were non-factors at even strength and on the power play.

Montreal has much greater scoring depth.

The Habs’ top line of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Thomas Vanek combined for seven points (three goals, four assists) in Round 1. But the Canadiens are far from a one-line team. Here are their leading scorers among forwards through the first round.

Player (Position) GP G A Pts
Lars Eller, C 4 2 3 5
Brendan Gallagher, RW 4 3 2 5
Brian Gionta, RW 4 1 2 3
Tomas Plekanec, C 4 2 1 3
Rene Bourque, LW 4 3 0 3
Thomas Vanek, LW 4 1 2 3

This impressive level of depth gives Therrien a lot of options, especially on the road, when playing the matchup game is harder without last change. If his top line is struggling, he can give more ice time to his second and third lines, all of which feature highly skilled players with a lot of playoff experience.

One thing that could hurt the Canadiens’ speed in Game 1 is the long nine-day layoff between series, but Therrien is confident his players will be good to go.

“I’m convinced our players are ready to play those types of games tonight,” he said.

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