Bruins up for fight of their lives

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 4:34 PM ET


 BOSTON -- When you get a playoff matchup of second and seventh, you expect a big difference in the statistics.

 So if the second-place Boston Bruins scored 209 goals this season, how many did the seventh-place Montreal Canadiens score?

 Well, 208 actually.

 The Bruins had 41 wins.

 The Canadiens had how many? Try 41.

 You have to go to the goals-against category to find a substantial difference -- if you consider four goals over 82 games substantial. The Bruins allowed 188 goals, the Canadiens 192.

 No matter how long you look at the stats, you won't find a reason to think this series will be at all one-sided. Of the six games this season, Boston won three, lost two and tied one.

 The Bruins won the first meeting 2-0 and that turned out to be the largest margin of the six games. Three went to overtime.

 Therefore, as this relentless recitation of statistics shows, the Bruins can ill afford to be without their captain and offensive leader Joe Thornton, who injured his ribs last Thursday and hasn't played since.

 FELT FINE

 He practised with the team yesterday and said afterward he felt fine. But he wouldn't say whether he'd play tonight and no one touched him while he was on the ice, a courtesy that he will not be afforded by the Canadiens.

 The official Bruins line is that Thornton has an "upper-body injury" and they whisper about a wrist problem. But those in the know say that the problems are closer to Thornton's ribs, the type of injury with which the Bruins have much more experience than they'd like.

 Sergei Samsonov missed three games with rib difficulties earlier in the season, tried to come back too soon and had to sit out for a further 11 games.

 Similarly, former Maple Leaf Travis Green was out for eight games with a rib injury but got hurt again as soon as he came back and was gone for 10 more.

 Therefore, the Bruins face a dilemma.

 They know from painful experience that rushing Thornton back could be counter-productive. But they also know that these two teams are so evenly matched that they badly need him.

 If the Bruins don't have Thornton, they'll be in for the fight of their lives against the disciplined Canadiens, who commit very few turnovers in their own end.

 Almost without exception, you have to earn your goals against Montreal.There are no gifts.

 So the Bruins have to be concerned not only about the obvious loss of Thornton's direct contributions, but also the loss of the penalties that he draws because he's so dangerous and strong.

 The cumulative score for the six regular-season games was 9-7 in Boston's favour, so any development likely to reduce power-play chances cannot be welcome.

 For the Canadiens, the aim is to get an early start on breaking down the Bruins' confidence.

 They feel that if they can win the opener or Game 2, the seeds of doubt will be planted in the Bruins' minds.

 These teams met two years ago -- it was first against eighth that time -- and the Canadiens won.

 TIGHT SERIES

 It should be a tight series and if you want to place a bet on it -- on either side -- you'd better use money you can afford to lose.

 Even when one team has the numbers to show its dominance, there's never any sure outcome in a Montreal-Boston series.

 And this one is even closer than most.


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