Daily Hab-it: Tale of the tape is largely mental
Published Sunday, April 10, 2011 1:12AM EDT Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 3:10AM EDT
Montreal Canadiens left wing Travis Moen (32) is sandwiched between Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (33), of the Czech Republic, and center David Krejci (46), of Czech Republic, during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Boston Thursday, March 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
The Hockey Gods clearly have some pull.
The Montreal Canadiens will face the Boston Bruins in the playoffs for the 33rd time in NHL history, and for the fifth time in the first round since 2002.
But frankly, none of that matters.
Canadiens fans will likely trot out the franchise's 24-8 all-time playoff series record against the Bruins, and it's about as relevant to this series as Jean Beliveau's career numbers against Boston.
Bruins fans could counter with their first round sweep of the Canadiens the last time the two teams met in 2009, but that's equally irrelevant because only 12 Bruins who will play in this series played in that one as well, and it's only five on the Canadiens side, including Yannick Weber who is unlikely to dress in the playoffs.
Deciding what the frame of reference should be for handicapping the series is a subjective one, at best.
If one so chooses, they could decide that the last three games between the two teams would be most indicative of what we will see in the playoffs, and if you choose to do that the Bruins would obviously have a decided edge.
Over those three games, the Bruins won two quite decisively, once by exerting their brawn in a fight-filled 8-6 win at home on Feb. 9, and another time by showing they can out-skill the Canadiens as well in a 7-0 blowout at home on March 24. The one loss in that span was by a 4-1 score in Montreal, a game marred by the Zdeno Chara hit that left Max Pacioretty motionless on the ice for several excruciating minutes.
One could argue that loss was almost like a Bruins win in the intimidation game, because it made it abundantly clear the Canadiens have no answer for Chara when he decides to get physical.
But really, there's no way that could have been made any more clear than it already was. Just as it can't be more obvious that Montreal has no physical answer for Milan Lucic or Shawn Thornton.
For the current Canadiens squad and the core that has been here for only two seasons, they can look at winning nine times in 12 games against the Bruins over their time here.
Carey Price's career regular season record against Boston is 13-4-2, and over the last two seasons it's 7-2-0.
There's a reason for that. The way Montreal is built is the oil to the Bruins water, or at least it has been in the great majority of games between the two teams over two seasons.
The Bruins record against Montreal in their last 12 games is 3-6-3, against the rest of the NHL it's 82-48-21. That's a .375 points percentage against the Canadiens, and .613 against everyone else. Boston has also lost its last five games in Montreal, the last win here dating back to Feb. 7, 2010.
But again, the relevance of all that information is debatable, because the playoffs are a different animal and these two teams, the way they are currently made up, have yet to face each other in that environment.
When things are broken down in a vacuum, we see two teams with coaches that are extremely similar in the way they ask their teams to play, and that's a defence-first system that insulates a world-class goalie.
But the one major question mark I have about the Bruins is playoff experience, both short and long term.
In the long term, the Bruins have three Stanley Cup rings in their room, two for Mark Recchi and one for Shawn Thornton. Their team has 702 career playoff games under their belt, with five players who will make their playoff debuts: Nathan Horton (after more than 500 NHL regular season games), Gregory Campbell, Brad Marchand, Steve Kampfer and Tyler Seguin.
In addition to that, two of the key mid-season acquisitions by the Bruins have not been exposed to playoff hockey all that much either, with Tomas Kaberle getting his first playoff action since the lockout and Rich Peverley playing all six of his career playoff games with the Predators in 2008.
On the Canadiens side, there are 825 games of playoff experience in the room – 123 more than the Bruins – with six Stanley Cups, two for Scott Gomez and one each for Brian Gionta, Hal Gill, Travis Moen and Brent Sopel.
The Canadiens have three players – Ryan White, Lars Eller and David Desharnais – who will make their playoff debuts, unless Pacioretty somehow manages to play in the series.
Then there's the short-term playoff experience, with the bulk of the Canadiens living through last season's run to the Eastern Conference Finals, and the bulk of the Bruins spending last summer thinking about the historic second round meltdown of losing a series they led 3-0.
Ultimately, in a series with two evenly matched teams, that playoff experience may be the difference maker. But it depends a great deal on what frame of reference has the biggest psychological impact on the players – the last three games, or the last two seasons.