Michel Therrien,  Michael Bournival,  Ryan White,   Travis Moen

Bruins are ‘best team in the league,’ says Habs coach

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Michel Therrien didn’t exactly answer today’s question about whether his Canadiens were the underdog heading into their series with Boston, but he did offer this:

Statistically speaking, Therrien’s right. Boston captured the Presidents’ Trophy on the strength of a 54-win, 117-point regular season and easily dispatched of Detroit in five games in the opening playoff round, winning four straight after dropping Game 1.

What Therrien didn’t mention, though, is that his team gave the NHL’s top club fits this season. Montreal went 3-1-0 against the Bruins this year — winning twice at TD Garden — and did it largely with Peter Budaj in net, as the Slovak netminder played in three of four head-to-head contests (Carey Price only faced the Bruins once and won, 2-1, back on Dec. 5.)

It’s easy to understand why Therrien has chosen the above narrative, though. He’s always been adept at positioning his club in whatever light he feels will be advantageous — in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final with Pittsburgh, he spent a good chunk of time telling anybody that would listen about how Detroit was obstructing his players, and accused Chris Osgood of embellishing to draw goalie interference calls (see more here).

That said, he’s not going too far with the “Boston’s better” message.

“We’re confident,” he said, prior to tonight’s game. “Come gameday, we’ve talked enough. It’s time for action.”

Get your game notes: Canadiens at Bruins

Boston Bruins v Montreal Canadiens
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Tonight on NBCSN, it’s the Boston Bruins hosting the Montreal Canadiens starting at 7:30 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

• Tonight marks the start of the 34th all-time playoff series and the 171st all-time playoff game between Montreal and Boston. The Bruins had the slight edge between the Original Six clubs in the early years, before the Canadiens rattled off 18 straight series wins over 41 years (1946-1987). Since 1988, when the Bruins finally broke through again, Boston has won seven of the 11 series.

• The Canadiens return to competition after sweeping Tampa Bay nine days ago (Apr. 22). It was the Habs’ 22nd sweep in a best-of-seven series in franchise history and first since 1993, the year they went on to win their 24th (and most recent) Stanley Cup title.

• Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, who leads the NHL this postseason in GAA (1.16) and save% (.961), will be starting his first-career playoff game vs. the Canadiens. The Vezina Trophy finalist has struggled vs. Montreal during his regular-season career, going 3-10-3 in 17 appearances (one no-decision), with a 2.63 GAA, .908 save% and one shutout. He has never beaten the Habs at TD Garden (0-4-3, 3.35 GAA, .833 save%).

• Boston allowed a league-low 1.20 goals/game in their first-round, five-game series win vs. Detroit. The six goals allowed by Rask and the Bruins were the fewest allowed by the club in a series going five or more games since the 1939 Stanley Cup vs. Toronto (also six goals in five games). In their last 10 playoff games vs. Eastern Conf. opponents dating back to last season (Gm. 5 vs. NYR, Gms. 1-4 vs. PIT, Gms. 1-5 vs. DET), they allowed only nine goals.

• In the first round, Montreal led all playoff teams with 4.00 goals/game, but none of their 16 goals came from defensemen. The Canadiens averaged 34.5 shots/game, but no Habs defenseman had more than nine shots on goal (P.K. Subban). The Bruins scored 2.80 goals/game in the first round; four of their 14 goals came from their blueline (Zdeno Chara – 2, Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton).

• Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher (3-2–5) enters tonight’s game with points in all four games this postseason and goals in his last three games. Gallagher became the third-ever Montreal player age 21 or younger to score in at least three straight playoff games in one series (Steve Shutt, Games 1-4 vs. NYR, 1974; and Shayne Corson, Games 5-7, 1987 vs. Quebec). Elias Sports Bureau

• Bruins winger Jarome Iginla, who scored the OT game-winner in Game 4 and the series-clincher on an empty-net goal in Game 5, will be playing in his 75th playoff game tonight. Iginla has now suited up in 1,384 NHL games (1,310 regular season, 74 playoff), the most among all active players who have never won the Stanley Cup.

• Bruins coach Claude Julien will be behind the bench for his third postseason series involving these two teams. Each of the previous series went seven games, and he was on the winning side in both of them, for Montreal in the 2004 Eastern Conf. Quarterfinals and Boston in the 2011 Eastern Conf. Quarterfinals. That 2011 Bruins side went on to win the franchise’s sixth Stanley Cup.

Bruins’ Julien proud of his young defensemen

Kevan Miller, Torey Krug
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We know the Boston Bruins are tough on defense and that captain Zdeno Chara is the face of that group, but the host of young players that have stepped up on the blue line this season are part of what impresses coach Claude Julien the most.

As Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com shares, guys like Kevan Miller, Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski, and Dougie Hamilton have all played major roles in Boston this season and the coach has more than taken notice.

There are times when they did get caught, and I’ve got a lot of clips of that if you want,” said Julien. “But that’s how they learn; you have to teach along the way. Because they were allowed to do that, sometimes you learn from your mistakes and get better. … They’re young players who are getting better all the time, and they have learned. That is to their credit.”

Krug has been the player that’s gotten noticed the most this season because of his point production, but Hamilton has been paired with Chara and seen his game improve. Miller’s physical presence and Bartkowski’s all-around game have earned Julien’s trust.

Say what you want about the Bruins, but one area they’re not lacking is on defense and they could be about to get a lot better with Dennis Seidenberg returning to practice recently.

PHT Morning Skate: Bruins-Canadiens kick off Round 2

Montreal Canadiens v Boston Bruins
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If you thought there was going to be a night off to get ready for the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you’re sorely mistaken.

After last night’s Game 7 tripleheader, action moves to Boston where the Bruins and Montreal Canadiens will meet for the 34th time in playoff history. You can virtually throw out everything you know about both teams when these two meet up because the playoffs are an entirely different animal.

Game 1: Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens (7:30 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The Bruins may have won the Presidents’ Trophy, but the one team that remained a burr in their side in the regular season was the Canadiens. Montreal went 3-1-0 against Boston this season with the Habs winning a pair of games 2-1, one in overtime, and each team taking a 4-1 victory on the other’s home ice.

Like we said, throw out everything you know coming into the series.

Each team has strengths in each area, but the one that might be the closest comes in goal. Carey Price had an outstanding season and Tuukka Rask is a Vezina Trophy finalist. Price was likely close to finishing in the Top 3 there but was edged out by Ben Bishop.

On defense, Zdeno Chara is the be-all, end-all of blue liners, but P.K. Subban was such a vital cog in helping the Canadiens sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning out of the postseason. The Bruins are all too familiar with how Subban plays and we’ll likely see him have more than his fair share of run-ins with Brad Marchand.

Up front, Patrice Bergeron has become the straw that stirs the drink on both ends of the ice for Boston. He can score goals and he can help shut down whoever he’s lined up against. He’s likely going to see a lot of either Tomas Plekanec or David Desharnais’ line, or just whatever line Thomas Vanek is on.

In Vanek’s career he scored most of his points against the Bruins with 30 goals and 62 points in 55 games. For people who like to point out those aren’t playoff numbers, Vanek had two goals and an assist in three games against Boston in 2010 before his ankle was injured by Johnny Boychuk.

Nope, no potential story lines in this series at all.

Julien: Bruins-Habs series starting faster than we expected

julienap
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To hear Claude Julien explain it, the Bruins don’t sound thrilled about starting their second-round series against Montreal so soon.

From CSNNE’s Joe Haggerty:

The B’s bench boss admitted the Bruins were planning for a Friday or Saturday start to the playoff series with Northeastern University scheduled for Friday morning at TD Garden, and the thinking being that the TD Garden bull gang wouldn’t be able change over from playoff hockey sheet to graduating staging.

“We had to make some adjustments. Obviously at first, it looked more like a Friday, maybe Saturday. There was a lot of that talk,” said Claude Julien. “But there was never any talk of Thursday. So you plan accordingly and then you find out last night that you got to kind of move a little quicker than expected. That’s part of making adjustments as you go along.”

Last night, NHL officially announced the B’s-Habs series would start on Thursday — but has yet to announce the remaining times and dates for the series. A report from French-Canadian news outlet RDS claims Game 2 will go Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at TD Garden, which has yet to be confirmed.

Regardless of when either team thought the series would — or should — start, both will be sufficiently rested for Thursday’s Game 1. Montreal hasn’t played since closing out its opening-round series against Tampa Bay eight days ago, while the Bruins haven’t played since defeating Detroit on Saturday.