|Bruins vs. Canadiens: keys to the first round||04.14.11 at 1:35 am ET|
Finally, after plenty of hype, the Bruins and Canadiens are a matter of hours away from beginning their best-of-seven first-round series.
While one group of fans (and both will be present at TD Garden) chants “Ole” and the other chants “USA” (Bruins fans must really like Tim Thomas, as chanting “USA” applies to only one player on the team), there will be hockey to be played. The Bruins-Canadiens rivalry is the circus of all circuses, but if either team gets caught up in it, they could slip. Here are the things that will actually matter in this series:
DICTATING THE TEMPO EARLY
The first game of a playoff series is a big one, but the first 20 minutes of this series might be even more important. The Bruins are capable of overpowering the Canadiens with their style of play, but there were multiple instances in which the B’s sat back early and waited until the Canadiens had already established their presence. The two teams were split, 3-3, in the first-goal department, and in the four instances that a team got on the board in the game’s first 10 minutes, that team won.
The Habs certainly gave their netminder plenty of work this season, as price finished second to only Cam Ward in games played among goaltenders with 72. That’s a heavy workload, but Price handled it well, and it will be interesting to see whether the 23-year-old wears down in the postseason.
While Price was very good for the Canadiens this season, TD Garden was far from good to him. After allowing one goal in a 3-1 Canadiens win back on Nov. 11, his other two trips to Boston this season provided Habs fans with reason to worry. He gave up 13 goals over two losses at TD Garden in 2011 and was yanked from the the March 24 game less than five minutes into the third period.
The mystery of how Price can handle this series is very intriguing. His eight shutouts this season suggests he should be considered capable of taking over a playoff series, and if he does, it could be a classic goaltending matchup. If not, the Habs could be in trouble.
MILAN LUCIC AND NATHAN HORTON
The Bruins are the better team in this series, so they need their best players to be relentless. It’s no secret that Horton can disappear in games and struggled with consistency at points of the regular season, but it’s unknown whether he’s susceptible to drop-offs in the playoffs. Horton had a pair of forgettable games in his first two contests against the Canadiens (zero points and just one shot on goal over a pair of losses), but came up big in the other three (three goals, four assists).
Lucic, meanwhile, enjoys being known as a playoff player, and his 18 points over the last two postseasons speak for that. Lucic stepped up his game big-time this season but after scoring his 30th goal failed to strike again in the final 10 games. Will he also take his postseason play to a new level, or will his goal-less streak spill over into the playoffs?
The Bruins couldn’t buy a power play goal down the stretch, and with special teams always playing an important role in the postseason, they’ll have to find a way to convert against a very good Montreal penalty kill. The Bruins were just 3-for-24 against the Canadiens on the power play this season, while the Habs were 9-for-28.
THE BELL CENTRE
The reason this series might not be a short one is because the Bruins could struggle playing at the Bell Centre, as they did during the regular season (0-2-1). The difficulty they’ve encountered winning games in Montreal will make the B’s home games even more important. The Habs are capable of stealing one or two on the road, and the B’s need to prove they’re capable of doing the same.
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