Habs-Bruins most compelling series

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:14 PM ET

MONTREAL -- There will be an argument from those in the West -- a good one -- that the most compelling first-round series as the NHL's Stanley Cup tournament gets under way Wednesday is that between the Vancouver Canucks and the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Canucks, Stanley Cup favourite and President's Trophy winner, with their closet full of demons that groan in the night, against the defending champion 'Hawks, who shoveled dirt on them two years in row.

That's pretty good right there.

But I will take the East series between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins, if only because there are so many varied and intriguing entry points for the 33rd playoff meeting between the two long-time adversaries, whose rivalry got kicked up another notch on the ridiculous meter this season.

Any time "911" and "Zdeno Chara" are in the same sentence -- unless he's on his way to or from the rink -- then you know things have crossed the bridge over the River Stupid to Crazytown.

Not that you needed any more hype for two teams that have already met 32 times in the post-season, with the Habs holding a 24-8 edge (though the Bruins have won six of the last 10 meetings, including a sweep two years ago when they last met).

Recent history is plenty, thanks.

The last three regular-season games between the two clubs saw the Bruins pummel and bloody the Habs in a series of scraps at the end of the Bruins 8-6 win in Beantown Feb 9, the Zdeno Chara hit on Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty that left Pacioretty with a broken neck (which had fans calling 911 and wanting the cops to get involved) March 8 and then a 7-0 drubbing by the Bruins in a game in which the Habs were remarkably devoid of emotion in the aftermath of the Pacioretty game.

Going back a little further, the B's go into this playoff season with the stink of their complete and thorough choke job against the Philadelphia Flyers last spring still on their clothes, becoming just the third team in history to let a team out of an 0-3 shallow grave. That's a lot of junk in the trunk to lug around.

"We entered this year coming off that disappointing end against Philadelphia. That's been an underlying theme of the year, to be able to respond and be able to build from that," said B's GM Peter Chiarelli. "The obvious answer is to get past the second round. But it's more than that. It's about how we play, how we compete. There are a lot of variables that go into a playoff run. I expect us to have a successful run.''

The Habs, meanwhile, can look back on a playoff run that made them the darlings of the first couple of rounds last spring, upsetting the neurotic top-seeded Washington Capitals with the approach of falling back and then counter attacking, exploiting the Caps' refusal to alter strategy. Then they kicked out Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, again with a seventh-game victory on opposition ice.

Playoff hero Jaroslav Halak is gone from the Montreal net, but, after the regular season goaltender Carey Price had, it's not too much of a stretch to believe Price could wind up being close to Halak's equal this spring.

Maybe better?

The Canadiens will be quite comfortable again in the role of underdog. Everybody is looking at the excellence of Tim Thomas in the Boston net, the addition of Tomas Kaberle on the blueline and the B's size, depth and talent up front.

There's a lot in the beanpot in this series.

As we saw during the regular season, predicting what the next game would bring was a fool's game, never mind at least the next four.

Which is what makes this series the most interesting of the first round.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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