Boston, MA- The playoffs have finally arrived. Four teams hit the ice on Wednesday night to kick things off, while another four teams had to wait, and will begin their series on Thursday. As most fans know already, the Boston Bruins drew the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 41-29-12, good for 94 points. Boston's first round opponent is none other than the archrival Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens finished in first place in the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference with a 47-25-10 record, good for 104 points.
Of the 24 teams that the Boston Bruins faced during the regular season, the Montreal Canadiens had to have been the one team that left the biggest mark. Montreal won all eight games against the Bruins, and allowed Boston to earn just one of a possible 16 points in the season series. The playoff series between the two teams begins on Thursday night in Montreal. For the most part, trips to Montreal this season were less than pleasant for the Bruins. In the first three games at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens out scored Boston 21-7. The fourth game was a completely different story as the Bruins played a full 60 minutes, and came away with a point in a tough 3-2 shootout loss.
The leading scorer in the season series for the Bruins was their leading scorer from the regular season, Marc Savard. Savard was only able to light the lamp once against Montreal, but dished out eight assists for a total of nine points. Defenseman Dennis Wideman came in second with two goals and four assists for six points. Third place was a tie between Phil Kessel, Glen Murray, and Zdeno Chara. Each had four points. Boston's leading goal scorer was Marco Sturm with three. 15 members of the Bruins recorded points against the Canadiens. Glen Murray leads the team in career points with 41.
The eight wins have been a total team effort by the Montreal Canadiens. 22 different players have recorded at least a point against the Bruins, and 18 of the 22 have found the back of the net. Three players are tied at the top with 11 points, and all three have done so in different fashions. First is the leading goal scorer of the season series, Alex Kovalev. Kovalev has beaten Boston netminders seven times in the eight head-to-head matchups and has four assists to go with those goals. On defense, Mark Streit has been an assist machine. Streit doesn't have any goals against the Bruins, but he has dished out 11 helpers. Andrei Kostitsyn has done a little bit of both, scoring five goals and giving out six assists. Next in line is a player who started his dominance of Boston in the preseason, Tomas Plekanec. Plekanec had three goals and seven assists for ten points. Saku Koivu rounds out Montreal's top five with six points.
In goal, the Bruins have gone in four different directions against Montreal. Two of those four goaltenders had games they would like to forget. Manny Fernandez got beaten six times on 20 shots in his loss, while Alex Auld lasted just 20 minutes after allowing four goals on seven shots. Tuukka Rask did okay in his start, stopping 26 of the 30 shots he faced. The rest has been Tim Thomas. Thomas has an 0-4-1 record against the Canadiens this season with 171 saves on 195 shots for an .877 save percentage. In his career, Thomas is 4-12-1 against the Habs.
Montreal has relied on two goaltenders to get the job done against the Bruins. One of those goaltenders will get the starting nod in this series, while the other will be looking to put the Washington Capitals past the Philadelphia Flyers. The starter for this series is rookie Carey Price. Price put together a 24-12-3 regular season with a 2.56 goals against average and .920 save percentage. In five games against the Bruins, Price was brilliant. The rookie went 5-0, stopping 151 of the 162 shots he faced for a .932 save percentage. Price's backup is Jaroslav Halak. Halak did not face Boston this year, but did go 3-1 against them last season.
The biggest key for the Bruins in this series will be to stay out of the penalty box. Simply put, Montreal's power play is deadly. The Canadiens had the top power play in the league this season, clicking at 24.1%. Penalties are a part of the game, but any extra chances for Montreal could prove to be very costly. On the other end, Boston needs to get into Carey Price's head. Price is a rookie, and although he has shown a lot of composure, he can be rattled. If the Bruins allow Price to get comfortable and settle in with some big saves early, he will dominate. A slow game could play to Boston's advantage as well. Montreal is a team loaded with speed, so a high scoring track meet will likely give them the edge. It might be ugly and boring hockey to watch, but as long as the Bruins win, they don't care how it looks.
On Wednesday night, the Providence Bruins wrapped up the best record in the American Hockey League. Providence thumped the Worcester Sharks 6-1, while the Chicago Wolves got blasted 8-3 by the Toronto Marlies. After a scoreless first period, the Baby B's offense erupted in the second. Pascal Pelletier got things started with his league-leading 37th goal of the season. Later in the period, Brett Skinner netted his seventh and Martins Karsums scored his 18th to give the P-Bruins a 3-0 lead. Newcomer Zach Hamill assisted on all three goals. The Sharks got a goal back early in the third period when Mike Iggulden connected on a power play. In the final five minutes of the period, a lack of discipline ended up putting Worcester on a huge penalty, and the Peebs certainly made them play. Martins Karsums potted his second goal of the game at 16:11. Jordan Knackstedt followed that up with his second goal of the season at 17:39, and Chris Collins finished off the scoring with his 22nd of the season 37 seconds later. Adam Courchaine picked up his second win in as many starts as a Providence Bruin with 19 saves on 20 shots. Taylor Dakers suffered the loss for the Sharks with 25 saves on 31 shots. Zach Hamill earned his second #1 star in four games since joining the P-Bruins.
The first game of the series between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens gets going at 7:00 Thursday night from the Bell Centre. The Providence Bruins have Thursday night off, but begin a three game weekend on Friday at home against the Manchester Monarchs.