The Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens entered the first-round of the Stanley Cup playoffs representing the newly formed Atlantic Division, with the third and fourth best records in the Eastern Conference. However, from the second the puck was dropped in Game 1 on the opening night of the tournament, only one team looked like it belonged.
The Montreal Canadiens made short work of the upstart Lightning, who had recently traded their captain Martin St. Louis and lost Vezina candidate goaltender Ben Bishop to injury in the final week of the regular season.
Game 1 went to overtime fuelled by a courageous effort by Tampa’s scorers, however, the contest was never truly close. The Habs outshot the Bolts 44 to 25 to win the first game of the series on the road, 5-4 in OT.
The next three games were an example of one team being that much better than the other, as Montreal banged off three straight regulation wins to quickly eliminate Steven Stamkos’s side. In fact, due to scheduling, the Habs had secured a spot in the second-round before their next round opponent — either the Boston Bruins or Detroit Red Wings — had won twice. Moments later, the Bruins secured a Game 3 victory over the Red Wings to take a 2-1 lead in the other Atlantic Division semifinal series.
The Habs can rest now, for a bit. They can focus their undivided attention toward the goings-on of the Bruins-Red Wings series, and thoroughly prepare for the winner, whomever it may be.
The Bruins lost Game 1 in their home building to the Red Wings by a score of 1-0. Since, they’ve rallied to claim victory in two straight: a 4-1 win in Game 2 and a 3-0 blanking last evening at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
Through three games played the Bruins have only allowed two goals against — pretty impressive. NHL teams don’t seem to care all that much about which teams they play in the playoffs — at some point you’ll have to defeat the top clubs if you hope to win the Stanley Cup. So, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest the Canadiens have a preferred second-round opponent. But, one thing I do know, because it’s a logical assumption to make: the Canadiens must be cheering for the Bruins-Red Wings to play all seven games and beat the snot out of each other in the process.
The Bruins and Canadiens have an incredible history of rivalry. No other NHL clubs have met more in the Stanley Cup playoffs than Boston-Montreal. And the rivalry isn’t solely an old tradition stemming from the ’50s, ’60s or ’70s — the Bruins and Habs have met in the postseason often over the past decade. The most recent renewal of the NHL’s most notorious rivalry came in 2011 — the year the Bruins last won the Stanley Cup — with Boston winning the seventh game in overtime on a goal by Nathan Horton.
The Canadiens may not enjoy another test against their hated rivals from Boston if the Detroit Red Wings can win three before the Bruins win two. Boston is known for starting slow in the first-round — they’ve played in three straight Game 7 overtimes in Round 1. The Bruins 2-1 lead over the Red Wings is still less commanding than the 3-1 lead in games they held over the Toronto Maple Leafs a year ago, only to wind up in Game 7, needing legendary dramatics to win and advance.
Should the Red Wings discover a way to generate offence against the Bruins and win the first-round series for which they trail in games and have only scored one goal, they’ll pose a different type of problem for the Canadiens.
Few clubs in the league, let alone the Eastern Conference, have the personnel to play the game the way the Bruins do: freakishly big men with talent, adhering to a strict code of defence-first and take no prisoners. The Wings are more of a beat-you-with-skill-and-speed proposition; they are similarly built to the Habs, although not as experienced throughout the lineup, but more experienced at the top-end.
It could be ten days before the Canadiens need to go back to war, and who they play won’t be determined for at least another half-a-week. For now, they’ll rest and watch and wait for the franchise’s first berth in the second-round of the Stanley Cup playoffs since they advanced three-rounds in 2010 as the eighth seed.