Thursday, April 10, 2008

Playoffs Preview: Bruins v. Canadiens, Round 1

Let’s cut right to the chase.

The eighth-seeded Bruins face off against the top-seeded
Canadians Canadiens tonight in Montreal in a best-of-seven playoff series. It’s no exaggeration to say that this is the granddaddy of all hockey rivalries; as tepid as the competition has become in years past, the Habs will always be The Team To Beat if you’re a Bruins fan. Sure, they have 24 Cup titles to our 5. Sure, the Habs have won 23 out of 30 playoffs series against us, and all 7 finals series. This year, they’ve taken 8 of 8 games from us, outscoring us 38-16 (!) in the process. The closest we came to beating them was in our last regular-season matchup on March 22, when we lost in a shootout (the only game against the Habs to go beyond regulation time this year).

The realist says: We’re toast.

The fan says: We’re due.

Nah, we’re not the Big Bad Bruins that tore up the NHL in the early 70s. We’re not even a terribly great hockey team, to be honest: our goaltending is patchy at best, our much-lauded defense tends to fall apart within 30 seconds of an OT period, and our offense is much too heavily reliant on the slap shot. But I’ll be damned if this hasn’t been an exciting season. The loss of Patrice Bergeron in October seemed to doom our playoffs hopes before they had even begun to materialize, and yet we’ve fought through the season to somehow hang onto a playoffs berth. Sure, we skidded across the line panting and last-minute, like a fat kid in gym class. Sure, we looked frazzled and weak in the regular-season closer against Buffalo. But you’re crazy if you think this team doesn’t have momentum, especially as Bergeron and goalie Manny Fernandez return from months-long injury hiatuses. (Bergeron will not be playing in tonight’s game, incidentally, but has been cleared as an option for the remainder of the series.)

Montreal? Yeah, they look scary. But they’ve got a rookie in goal – a talented rookie in Carey Price, to be sure, but a rookie nonetheless. Montreal’s offense is powerful and efficient. They’ve scored 4 or more goals in 28 of 82 games this season (only one of those games resulted in a loss). Their power-play is league-leading, and their defense is tight. The Habs’ big weakness, though, is their inability to stand up to rough, physical play. The combination of Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara, and Shawn Thornton (xoxo) could be just the ticket to bringing down Alex Kovalev and his glimmering blonde hair. The offenses of both teams will score, but it’ll be the defense on either end of the ice that determines this series. If the Bruins can’t keep up with the Habs’ speedy, graceful offense, we’re toast; if we take the Habs to the boards every chance they get and never give them the few
inches centimetres (they are playing in Canada, after all) they need to turn a dazzling goal, we’ll SHUT THEM DOWN.

Now, that’s a big if. I’ve expressed skepticism about this series all along, and I’m not going to play the homerism card and call the B’s to win this series just because I’m insanely excited about it. A lot hinges on tonight’s game, though, and there’s no question that two different teams will skate off the ice tonight than skate onto it. It’s all about momentum here, folks: a win for the Bruins could rattle Montreal past the point of recovery.

Incidentally, lest you somehow think that being consistently stronger than us has dampened Montreal’s enthusiasm for the rivalry, I invite you to check out the Canadiens’ website, which is simply laden with tidbits on the history of Bruins vs. Habs. They’re foaming at the mouth for this up in Canada tonight, and you’d better believe it.

I could describe the excitement of this series in terms of Red Sox-Yankees to you, and then you’d get it. But I’d rather not. I’d rather tell you that this is exciting hockey. Playoffs hockey. Hockey in the crucible of THE most bitter and storied rivalry the game has to offer, playing for the oldest professional sports trophy in North America. (Suck it, Lombardi!) The true spirit of a Boston fan is that of an underdog, and right now the Bruins are as underdog as it gets.

Can we beat the Habs? I don’t know yet.

But god, I hope we do.


Sh!tShow said...

The true spirit of a Boston fan is that of an underdog.


Awesome stuff. Is it wrong I'm contemplating a road trip to Montreal this weekend?

I'm way too nervous right now. I think I need a drink.

Hazel Maes Landing Strip said...

What the fuck is a Hab?