Here we go again.
Get ready for P.K. Subban. Get ready for a witch hunt of unsportsmanlike accusations being thrown all over the place -- from diving to cheap shots, you'll hear it all. Get ready for Tuukka Rask vs. Carey Price. And above all else, get ready for nonstop general outrage from the second the puck is dropped in Game 1 until the series inevitably ends in six or seven games.
It's Bruins and Canadiens, and it never gets old.
Obviously, this series has a lot to live up to after the last playoff meeting between those two teams. The 2011 Eastern Conference quarterfinal was as close to a classic as a first-round series can get, as the Bruins dropped the first two games at home before storming back in Montreal and winning three games in overtime en route to a seven-game victory.
Given the Zdeno Chara/Max Pacioretty ordeal, that season had a lot of bad vibes already built up. This season was relatively tame between the two squads: Montreal took three of four regular-season meetings, but the teams weren't close in the standings (Boston led by at least 10 points) in their three final meetings of the season. But that doesn't mean things won't get ramped up in a hurry here. Rumor has it Alexei Emelin and Milan Lucic don't like each other and that Brad Marchand is considered a real trouble-maker. Here's how the teams match up:
These are Montreal's lines at the moment:
Pacioretty - Desharnais - Vanek
Prust - Plekanec - Gallagher
Bourque - Eller - Gionta
Moen - Briere - Weise
There are a couple of asterisks there. The first is on the Plekanec line's left wing, as Alex Galchenyuk missed the entire first round with a knee injury. Michel Therrien is playing it coy, as he said over the weekend, "There's a chance he'll play in the second round, I hope." Take that the same way you took the chatter that Henrik Zetterberg was going to miss the entire first round.
The other change that might happen is on the fourth line left wing, as 21-year-old Michael Bournival played the entire Tampa series and had an assist in Game 4. But playing Travis Moen provides the team with more experience and some size to match a more experienced and bigger Bruins team.
Ultimately, the fourth line isn't the biggest concern; the whole offense is. Montreal is fast and deep offensively, with that Desharnais line particularly loaded. Max Pacioretty scored 39 goals in the regular season despite missing nine games, while Thomas Vanek is a known Bruins-killer who was probably picked up at the deadline with a postseason meeting vs. Boston in mind. In 55 career regular-season games against the Bruins, Vanek has 30 goals and 32 assists for 62 points. He has two goals and an assist for three points in three postseason games against the B's.
Yet the Canadiens aren't as deep as the Bruins. Montreal had one 30-goal-scorer but only two 20-goal-scorers (with Tomas Plekanec the other), whereas Boston had a pair of 30-goal-scorers in Patrice Bergeron and Jarome Iginla, with Marchand (25), Lucic (24) and Reilly Smith (20) rounding out the Bruins' five 20-goal-scorers.
The Bruins scored .60 goals more per game in the regular season than the Habs, and the emergence of Carl Soderberg has given them the best third line they had since the Ryder - Kelly - Peverley line helped power the B's past the Canadiens in 2011. Montreal's third line was very good in the first round, as Rene Bourque scored three goals in four games after scoring just nine goals all regular season. Lars Eller also had a pair of goals, with Brian Gionta contributing one.
David Krejci had just two assists in the first round against the Red Wings, but his suggestion after Game 4 that different production comes with different rounds was a pretty good hint that, though he was tasked with keeping Pavel Datsyuk quiet in Games 3 and 4, he's going to start producing like the guy who led two of the last three postseasons in scoring.
The Bruins will want to play Bergeron's line against Desharnais' line in Boston, with the hope that the ultra-responsible Plekanec won't be able to shut down Krejci.
These are the pairs Montreal used against Tampa:
Markov - Emelin
Gorges - Subban
Bouillon - Weaver
Therrien is working with a better back end than Detroit's Mike Babcock had. Niklas Kronwall carried Detroit's defense, with the Bruins taking turns exposing every D after that from a first-pairing guy like Brendan Smith to the third pairing of Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff.
Markov is Montreal's horse, as he has stayed healthy for the last two seasons and led the team in time on ice in each. His defensive partner and countryman Emelin is a bruiser who has had more than a couple run-ins with Lucic this season, and was the first of two players at whom Lucic took a groin shot this season.
Gorges missed 15 games late in the season with a broken hand, but is healthy now and providing the defensive stability needed for Subban to play his game without it costing the Habs. Subban is a major weapon for the Habs on the back end, and he led Montreal with five assists in the first round.
Zdeno Chara played a very manageable 25:10 per night in the first round and saw his partner Dougie Hamilton emerge against the Red Wings. The Habs won't be as passive as Darren Helm was (Hamilton took advantage of Helm multiple times over the final three games of the series), but the Bruins' second-year blueliner should feel plenty confident in his game heading into this series.
The B's got away with having Andrej Meszaros in the lineup for the first two games of the series, and while Matt Bartkowski's return was a welcomed, Bartkowski still looks to be working his way back to where he was before the flu kept him off the ice. His pairing with Johnny Boychuk is worth keeping an eye on as the competition stiffens.
Torey Krug, like Hamilton, enjoyed a very strong first round for the B's. With a goal and four helpers, Krug was tied with Bergeron for the team lead in points. That number would have been higher had some of the scoring chances he created -- most notably Marchand's in Game 4 -- gone in. Kevan Miller should be a good asset for slowing down the Habs with physicality.
Tuukka Rask is one of the top goaltenders in the NHL. Carey Price isn't a Vezina finalist (Rask is and should win), but he is absolutely among the league's best netminders as well.
In fact, you should fear Price more than you fear Pacioretty and Vanek. Considering he runs so hot and cold, Price is one prolonged hot streak away from taking the Habs really deep in the playoffs.
This season saw a career-best .927 save percentage for Price, which put him fourth in the NHL and not far behind Rask's .930 mark.
The first-round numbers strongly favor the Bruins, as Rask allowed six goals in five games while Price allowed 10 in four. The Canadiens have historically given Rask trouble, but he held them to one goal in each of their last two meetings.
EDGE: Bruins (but not by as much as you'd think)
The Bruins had perhaps their best postseason power play showing in quite a while, as the six power play goals they scored in five games against Red Wings were the most they'd scored in a playoff series since the first round of 2010, when they scored that many over six games in 2010.
The reason for Boston's success on the man advantage is simple: they have two good units. One is anchored by Chara and Krug and filled out by first-liners, while the other has Hamilton on the back end and got goals out of Smith and Eriksson in the first round. Chara had a pair of power-play goals in the opening round.
Of course, the penalty kill will be just as important, as Montreal is known for its ability to draw penalties despite finishing 14th in regular-season power play opportunities. The Bruins finished last in that category.
When the Habs inevitably do get on the man advantage, they'll be working with the 19th ranked power play in the league, as they capitalized 17.2 percent of the time in the regular season to Boston's third-best 21.7 clip. Desharnais and Pacioretty scored for the Canadiens as they went 2-for-13 in the first round. Pacioretty's goal came in the final minute of Game 4 to send the game to overtime.
Both teams were very good on the penalty kill in the regular season, as Montreal finished fourth in the league with an 85.1 percent kill rate, whereas Boston was eighth at 83.6 percent.
We've learned over the years that a series between the Bruins and Canadiens will get crazy; it's just a matter of how crazy will get. The first round saw points at which the B's physicality got the Red Wings off their game both during the course of play and after the whistle. Montreal doesn't measure up there, but they have guys plenty capable of getting under the Bruins' skin, with Subban leading the way.
Much of the reason the Bruins seemed destined to defeat the Red Wings in relatively short order was that Detroit wasn't equipped to stop Boston's deep offense. Montreal presents a greater challenge their, as their blueliners should give the Bruins' forwards a harder time.
Yet if the Bruins play to their strength and use the first two games at home to establish the way they want to play -- a physical style that will slow the Habs down -- they should win the series. They still shouldn't lose to any Eastern Conference team at this point.
PREDICTION: Bruins in 6