Before the season started, most experts predicted that Montreal and Boston would miss the playoffs…
Not only did the Habs make the playoffs, they won their division and earned the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Their power play is running at 24.2% – the highest the NHL has seen in a decade and Alexei Kovalev is playing the best anyone has seen him play in six years. Meanwhile, Montreal has one of the most balanced teams in the league, boasting 7 players with 50 or more points.
Boston clinched a playoff spot on the last weekend of the regular season. They have been winning this year because of the surprise play of Tim Thomas, the playmaking of Marc Savard and the blue-line dominance of Zdeno Chara. The real story in Boston this year, however, has been the team’s work ethic and ability to prevail over adversity. The Bruins have suffered many key injuries and overcome them by executing their “put-the-fans-to-sleep” game plan to perfection.
The obvious selection in this series is Montreal. They swept the season series 8-0 against Boston, and have won 11 straight against their division rivals. Odds makers have Montreal as winning the series 75% of the time. Is this a lock?
I’m sure 20+ years ago there were sportswriters questioning whether rookie goaltender Patrick Roy could take Montreal deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But hey, there’s only one Patrick Roy. The Habs are playing with a rookie goaltender and possibly without their leader (remember the Carolina series a few years ago?). To win, the Habs must take advantage of the NHL’s best power play in a decade.
Boston’s hard-working team game is well suited for playoff hockey. Marc Savard is “back” and Patrice Bergeron will make an appearance this series. If Tim Thomas can steal a few games and the Bruins can continue their tight checking, this series will even up in a hurry.
Prediction: Habs in 7
Note: Since 1993-1994, when the NHL switched to its current playoff seeding format, top seeds are 19-7 against bottom seeds.
For illegal curve, I’m Ari Baum-Cohen