Five Keys to the Game: Habs-Bruins #1
Silent force: If we were to ask you who the Canadiens’ top two sharpshooters were against the Bruins this season, Alexei Emelin wouldn’t necessarily be among your top choices. Nevertheless, the Russian rearguard scored two of his three goals during the 2013-14 campaign against Boston and goaltender Tuukka Rask. He also registered 19 hits and racked up nine blocked shots against Claude Julien’s troops in four games. Power forward Max Pacioretty was the other name on the list.
Rest period: The wait was long. Very long. When the Canadiens finally take to the ice against the Bruins on Thursday night following a nine day break after sweeping the Lightning, it will mark the seventh time since 1985-86 that the bleu-blanc-rouge will have waited more than six days to kick off a new series. Even if rust was a factor in the first game of the Canadiens’ last six series – with Montreal coming up short four times – the Habs still managed to win the series every time. For their part, the Bruins lost four of the six series they played under similar circumstances during the same period.
Blocking machines: The willingness to sacrifice one’s body for the sake of the team is a key quality of any hockey player. Not only must a player absorb hard hits, but he might also put himself in harm’s way by trying to prevent shots that often reach 100 mph from reaching a goaltender. The Montreal Canadiens have mastered the art of blocking shots
and turning aside enemy fire. Since the 2004-05 lockout, the Habs have blocked 11,197 shots in the regular season, an average of 15.9 blocked shots per game. They’ve twice topped the league in that category, and finished third overall three times. The Bruins, however, haven’t fared better than a disappointing 15th place finish in 2005-06. Michel Therrien’s troops will likely finish the first two games of the series with a few bruises because Boston is a team that enjoys shooting the puck, particularly on home ice. Claude Julien’s contingent finished in the top-3 in that category in three of the last four seasons. Get the ice ready!
Power Up: Set to face the NHL’s most effective postseason power play unit in Round 2, the Canadiens are preparing for a tough special teams battle against their longtime rivals. The best antidote for Boston’s monster 37.5% efficiency with the man advantage will be discipline, which the Habs have shown in spades this spring as the least-penalized team in the playoffs. Averaging just 7.2 penalty minutes per game with only 11 minor penalties in the first round, Montreal killed off five of Tampa’s seven power play opportunities en route to a quarterfinal sweep. With six of their 14 goals against Detroit coming with the man advantage – including two game winners – Boston’s first round power play prowess will be a key focus for the Habs’ penalty killers heading into the opening game.
The Hunter : Thomas Vanek loves the thrill of the hunt, especially when it comes to hunting bears. That’s what his career numbers against the Bruins have shown over time. The Austrian forward has amassed 30 goals and 62 points in 55 games against Boston. During the 2013-14 campaign, Vanek battled Claude Julien’s troops six times, two more times than any other player on the Canadiens roster. He played one game against the Bruins as a Sabre, three as a member of the Islanders and the last two games as a Hab. Vanek continued his stellar work against Boston this season, registering five assists and six points. The Canadiens’ No. 20 also boasts stellar playoff numbers when going up against the Original Six franchise. When Vanek’s Sabres battled the Bruins in 2010, he picked up two goals and three points in three games. With numbers like that, the Bruins will likely have to pay close attention to the Canadiens sniper throughout the series.