As is always the case with rivalries, the playing field becomes levelled and the favourite loses its powers. No one would’ve thought the Presidents Trophy winning, defending Eastern Conference champion Bruins would lose in the second-round to the fourth best team in the East, unless that team was the Montreal Canadiens. And unfortunately for the Bruins, it was.
So where are we now? The dream rematch of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final — Bruins vs Blackhawks — is no longer possible. Instead, two stingy, shot blocking, mirror images of each other will play in the Eastern Conference Final for a berth in the tournament’s final round, proving that strong defence and fearless shot blocking will outdo puck possession and yesteryear’s Cup rings any day of the week in the postseason.
The Canadiens displayed a lot of heart against the Bruins, and they know how to defend under pressure. To put it simply: Montreal was more hungry.
Habs goaltender Carey Price produced a legendary playoff performance, not unlike Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy and Jose Theodore before him. The team wins in the playoffs, and it’s inaccurate to praise or blame one player as the absolute difference maker in a seven game series. But if we had to name one in the 34th edition of Bruins-Habs it was Price. The Habs goaltender posted a .929 save percentage or better in five of seven games against Boston. Those are winning numbers.
It’s been known all season long that the East would be wide open once the Bruins were out. The Habs get the Rangers in the semis. Neither team stands out as a favourite to beat the other. In fact, the two sides are nearly identical. Both feature great goaltenders, elite scorers on the downswing, overachieving depth players, and loyal team buy-in from everyone.
Both the Canadiens and Rangers have a realistic opportunity to play in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993 and ’94, respectively.
When the third-round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs begins there will be three Original Six teams remaining. Should Chicago make the Final, we’ll witness a second straight Original Six showdown for the Cup.
The defending champion Blackhawks remain the favourites to win the Cup, but first they need to defeat California’s best — the winner of the Los Angeles-Anaheim series, which is headed to Game 7.
As for the Canadiens, should they beat the Rangers in the third-round and face the Kings for the Cup, it will be a rematch of the 1993 Final.
Should Montreal get Chicago in the Final, it will be an Original Six classic.
And should the Habs get Anaheim in the Final, either the Canadiens will win Cup number 24 to break a twenty-year drought or former team captain, and Montreal fan favourite, Saku Koivu of the Ducks, will win his first Cup. Half way there.