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Sunday, April 10, 2011
First-round breakdown: Bruins-Habs

By Pierre LeBrun
ESPN.com

Didn't you just know these two teams would end up playing each other in the playoffs?

One of the NHL's richest rivalries resumes with Montreal and Boston renewing Original Six hostilities, a history that has produced some of the game's most memorable moments.

From Rocket Richard to Don Cherry to Patrick Roy and Ray Bourque, it's a rivalry with boundless stories.

Thing is, the 2010-11 season series provided ample fireworks on its own.

"You don't even need all the history," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told ESPN.com on Sunday. "There's been a lot happening between the two teams this year, of course the hit on [Max] Pacioretty, prior to that the dust-up game, and then they had their way with us at the start of the year. They're always exciting games and it's going to be a good series."

Sprinkle in two passionate fan bases and, well, you've got fireworks waiting to happen.

"The rivalry matchup, it's one of those series. There will be a lot of eyes and a lot of talk about and all those things," Habs sniper Mike Cammalleri said in Toronto on Saturday night.

"Boston's a team that probably has a lot of high expectations internally. So they're going to come out expecting to win. We are going to feel the same way."

The Habs won four of six meetings this season but got drubbed 7-0 last month in the series finale. Will there be any carryover from that shellacking?


1. Zdeno Chara: The towering Bruins captain was disliked in Montreal even before he smacked Pacioretty into a stanchion last month, leaving the Habs winger with a concussion and a serious neck injury. Once the series shifts to Montreal for Game 3, it'll be a circus as Habs fans shower down their displeasure with the former Norris Trophy winner.

"He's pretty much booed every [time] he goes in the East, at least in the Northeast," Chiarelli said. "So that's nothing new to him. I'm sure there will be more scrutiny on him from the fans and media. Maybe we'll try and isolate the whole group once we're in Montreal just because it's an emotional town. You walk down the street there and you can feel the emotion."

2. Boston's physicality versus Montreal's quickness: The Bruins might be the most physical team in the league. The Canadiens might be the least physical. But the Habs gave the B's fits at times this season with their speed and skill. Two totally different teams. Which side of the game wins out?

"I'd like to think the way we play will wear them down," Chiarelli said. "But they do have quick forwards and their D are quick ups and they've got some good shooters. We play a straight line game and they play more of an east-west game with quickness. So over the course of a series you would hope our style would wear them down."

The key for Montreal is to hope Boston crosses the line with its physical play and pays the price, setting up the Habs' seventh-ranked power play.

"They're a physical team with a lot of size and a lot of depth," said star Montreal netminder Carey Price. "What we need to do is go toe-to-toe with them, try to get them to take penalties and kill them with our power play."

3. 2010 postseason collapse: Will there be any carryover for the Bruins from their stunning 3-0 series collapse to Philadelphia last spring? The Bruins have been upfront about last year's nightmare exit right from Day 1 of training camp, refusing to allow an elephant in the room.

"It's something that we've made an underlying theme in how we would respond," Chiarelli said. "Now it's crunch time and the proof is in the pudding. It's what you've done and how you've managed it mentally. We feel we're in a good position that way. We've taken that head on in all our mental preparation and team-building stuff. Now it's time to prove what it's worth."

4. Vezina-worthy goaltending: There's some serious netminding in this series. Tim Thomas is the favorite to win his second career Vezina Trophy this season, and many believe Carey Price should be a nominee for his standout campaign in Montreal. In theory, goals should be hard to come by, although strangely enough both netminders have had their turns at giving up some goals in this season series.

"They're both really good goalies and both can win a game by themselves," Chiarelli said. "I'm sure we'll see a game or two like that."

5. Special teams: Interestingly, the Canadiens enter this series with the leg up on both the power play and penalty kill, the Habs ranking seventh in the league in both departments while the Bruins are 20th on the power play and 16th on the penalty kill. Will this be a factor in this series? A big power-play goal at the right time can really swing the momentum of a game.


•  Zdeno Chara versus Tomas Plekanec's top line: The Canadiens ranked only 22nd in offense this season, and they don't win a lot of games in which Plekanec's unit doesn't produce. If Chara can shut down Plekanec, the Bruins should prevail.


•  Boston: Given the spotlight Chara will be under in this series, it will be interesting to see how he reacts. He's had a terrific season once again. But he's a player who has reached the third round of the playoffs only once in his career. There's pressure to help deliver a long playoff run this spring.

• Montreal: Montreal's highest-paid player, Scott Gomez, produced a measly 38 points this season. He was an effective player last spring, however, but needs another bounce-back playoff to erase a dreary regular season.


•  Like Chiarelli, we see the Bruins eventually wearing down the smaller Canadiens. But it won't be easy. Grab a seat and some popcorn, it's going to be a long one. Bruins in seven.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.