At long last, the wait is over as the Bruins and Canadiens finally drop the puck in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Thursday at TD Garden (7:30 p.m., NBCSN). Boston hasn’t played since last Saturday when it eliminated Detroit in five games. That seems like a long layoff until you remember that the Canadiens last played on April 22, the night they eliminated a hapless Tampa Bay squad.
With three Game 7s on Wednesday to conclude the first round of the NHL playoffs, Bruins and Canadiens fans have to be thankful, in a sense, for the break since it ensures this series will be on something of an even playing field.
“Montreal had a great series against Tampa, anybody who watched that series recognized that,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said. “We’re a group right now that feels good about our game, but we have a tough series ahead of us. We respect other teams’ strengths and we also respect our game to the point where we have confidence in it.”
It’s tough to take much away from the Lightning or Red Wings series’ as both losing teams played so poorly.
Patrice Bergeron and Torey Krug led Boston with five points each with three others (Milan Lucic, Jarome Iginla and Dougie Hamilton) checked in with four. Young right winger Brendan Gallagher, center Lars Eller and polarizing defenseman P.K. Subban all had five points for Montreal. Tuukka Rask was the best goaltender in the league in the first round as he allowed only six goals for a 1.16 GAA and a .961 save percentage, with one shutout. Montreal’s Carey Price was also tremendous (2.33 GAA & .904 save percentage) in the first round.
It’s a known fact that any game or series against the Canadiens will involve plenty of focus on penalties and power plays since perhaps no team in the NHL is so over-the-top in their tactics to gain a man advantage. The difference this time around is that Boston’s power play is a strength (6-for-16 in the first round) instead of a liability while Montreal’s looks more questionable (2-for-13 in the first round).
Julien, like the rest of us, is just happy to get things going again.
“I think it always has been a good rivalry,” the B’s head coach said about Bruins-Canadiens. “It is a lot of fun and I think the players get up for these games. As a coach you don’t have to do much of a pep talk when it comes to playing each other.”
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate