BOSTON — Claude Julien knows all about this rivalry. He coached Montreal for three seasons, and now he’s in charge in Boston.
“I hated Boston when I was in Montreal and now I hate Montreal because I’m in Boston,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
The second round of the NHL playoffs begins Thursday night when the Canadiens visit the Bruins for Game 1 of the 34th postseason series between the teams, by far the most in the NHL.
A nice bit of history but just a sidelight to the action on the ice.
“I know it’s a rivalry, but, as a player, you’re more focused on your game and not so much that it’s Montreal,” said Boston center Carl Soderberg, a second-year player facing Montreal in the postseason for the first time.
The Canadiens won 24 of the 33 previous series, but the Bruins have taken seven of the last 11. On its way to the 2010-11 Stanley Cup, Boston beat Montreal in seven games in the first round after losing the first two games at home.
“There’s been a rivalry between these two teams way before I was ever here and before I ever even knew about hockey,” said Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges, a nine-year veteran. “These are two great organizations that have a lot of pride.”
Five things to look for when the Original Six teams meet in the best-of-seven series:
SPEED VERSUS STRENGTH: One of Montreal’s greatest assets is its speed, while Boston relies on strength and solid positioning. It worked for the Bruins in the first round when they beat the faster Detroit Red Wings in five games.
“They’ve got some speedy forwards,” Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said of the Canadiens. “Despite the common belief that speed kills, I think we’ve shown that we have some speed and we have some size and we have experience. So it will be a challenge, but, I think, we’ll overcome that challenge.”
GOALIE MATCHUP: The Bruins have the edge in the net with Vezina Trophy finalist Tuukka Rask, who allowed six goals in five games in the opening round.
The Canadiens’ Carey Price did not have a great first-round series, allowing 10 goals in four games when Montreal swept the Tampa Bay Lightning. He had a .904 save percentage in that series, but he set career bests with a .927 percentage and 2.32 goals against average in the regular season. Rask posted a 1.94 goals against average in four regular-season games against Montreal, while Price played in just one of them. Peter Budaj played in the other three, but Price is expected to face the Bruins in the playoffs.
BRUINS NEMESIS: When the Canadiens acquired Thomas Vanek at the trade deadline from the New York Islanders, they got a longtime Bruins nemesis. In 55 games against them, he has 30 goals and 32 assists. He plays on the top line with Max Pacioretty, who led Montreal with 39 goals, and David Desharnais. But they’ll have to face the Bruins’ top defensive pairing of Norris Trophy finalist Zdeno Chara and improving 20-year-old Dougie Hamilton, who has filled in since Dennis Seidenberg was sidelined with a knee injury in late December. Seidenberg is not expected to play against Montreal.
KEEP COOL: Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand are two of Boston’s top offensive players. They’re also two of the most excitable. They need to control their emotions while Montreal players like defenseman P.K. Subban try to goad them into taking penalties.
REGULAR SEASON: The Bruins lost three of their four games against the Canadiens, one in a shootout. But they also lost 3 of 4 regular-season games against Detroit before winning 4 of 5 to eliminate the Red Wings in the first round.
In the last two regular-season games against Montreal, Boston won 4-1 then lost in a shootout. The Bruins and Canadiens know each other well, so “I think it’s just about who’s going to do their homework a little bit better,” Boston center David Krejci said.