MONTREAL — It’s a bit odd that the Bruins and Canadiens have yet to meet roughly a third of the way into the regular season, but when they finally do Thursday night, it will mean a lot more than it would have had they met in one of the first two months of the season.
First place in the Atlantic Division is on the line — and crazily, as NHL .com’s Arpon Basu notes, it’s the fifth straight meeting between the teams in which the top spot in a division was up for grabs. The Canadiens, who have played 29 games to the Bruins’ 27, sit one point behind the B’s in the standings with 37.
Some quick background on the Canadiens: They’ve been really good of late — 7-0-1 over their last eight games, as Bruins team statistician/left winger Milan Lucic  noted Thursday morning.
“I think it’s probably our biggest test of the year, coming into a real tough building against a real good team who’s playing its best hockey so far this year,” Lucic said. “It’s going to be a good test for us.”
The Habs, who have much of the same roster from last season but added a top-six winger in Daniel Briere and toughened up a bit with George Parros, have been led by the usual strong play from the likes of Carey Price  and P.K. Subban. Price has a 2.00 goals-against average and .937 save percentage in 22 games this season and likely will be in net Thursday after Peter Budaj played Wednesday against the Devils.
Subban, fresh off of winning the Norris Trophy as a 23-year-old, leads the Habs with 24 points (four goals, 20 assists). Claude Julien  said after the morning skate that Subban is being considered for Team Canada and that after years of adjusting to being a young star player, he’s got everyone on the same page about what he brings to the table.
“I think P.K. is a player that is electrifying,” Julien said. “He makes a lot of things happen offensively. When he carries that puck, he’s hard to stop. Throughout the years, a player is allowed to mature just like any other player. We’ve got some in our lineup that go through that same thing. Expectations sometimes are extremely high, and sometimes they’re not realistic and you don’t allow a player to develop the way you should without criticism, which you should.”
The Bruins haven’t played since Saturday, while the Canadiens are playing the second game of a back-to-back. The Habs blew a third-period lead against the Devils on Wednesday but came back to force overtime and eventually win a shootout.
That brings them to Thursday, when they will at long last face the Bruins. It’s been a good start for both teams, but the season doesn’t really start until the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry gets kicked off.
“It does feel different [having not played them], no doubt,” Julien said. “It’s probably a game that everybody’s been waiting for, fans and players alike. This is a great rivalry. We enjoy this kind of rivalry, and those are easy games to get up for for both sides and they end up being pretty entertaining games as well. ‘¦ These are the kinds of games that I think fans want to watch.”