They haven’t seen these guys for two months, but the Bruins are already sick of them.Sick of hearing about how the Montreal Canadiens have scored the most goals in the NHL. Sick of hearing that Montreal’s power play is the best in the league – at home, on the road, overall. Sick of hearing that Montreal has a chance to finish first in the Eastern Conference.And very, very sick of answering questions about the Canadiens beating them all six times they’ve played this season – often easily – and in nine straight meetings overall.“It’s not something we’re looking too much into,” defenseman Dennis Wideman told a couple of reporters who’d asked why Montreal has been so dominant. “That’s your job.”
Boston’s task, in a home-and-home series with the Habs that starts Thursday night at TD Banknorth Garden (the rematch is Saturday night at Bell Centre), is to somehow silence Montreal’s high-risk, quick-strike offense. Points are essential to the seventh-place Bruins’ playoff hopes, and with only nine games left in the regular season, this is no time to be swept.
“We’re going to approach this series just like we did the New York Rangers series a couple of weeks ago – like it’s a two-game playoff,” said veteran center Glen Metropolit.
The Bruins, who’d dropped three of four before that Jan. 19-20 home-and-home with New York, would gladly take a similar result: They won by shootout in Boston, 4-3, then scored a 3-1 victory at Madison Square Garden.
Things have changed in the last month, though: Three- and four-goal games have been rare for Boston, which has scored two or fewer in eight of the last nine games. The Bruins also haven’t had the services of their captain, defenseman Zdeno Chara, for the last five games – one win, two losses, and two defeats in extra time.
Chara, sidelined by an undefined “upper torso” injury, practiced Wednesday without a red “no-contact” jersey. Asked if he could do everything he’d need to do in a game, Chara answered “Yup.” Asked if he’ll return Thursday night, he said “Don’t know. I can’t tell you today.” Coach Claude Julien said a decision on Chara’s availability would be made Thursday morning.
The B’s would obviously love to have Chara back, but the fact that he has so far been unable to help the B’s beat the Habs this year makes it just as clear that one player probably won’t make that much difference.
No, the Bruins say their best chance to win is by playing as they have most of the non-Canadiens games to date.
“Yeah, they’re a great team, and they’ve got a lot of skill and speed,” Wideman said, “but we haven’t even come close to playing as well as we can against them.
“Why? I don’t know.”
Metropolit thinks the Bruins have made it too easy for Montreal to outplay, and usually outscore them early in each game (Boston hasn’t held a single lead), and made it even harder on themselves by losing their composure.
“We start getting frustrated, and kind of try to bully them around,” Metropolit said. “So they keep going on the power play, and sticking goals in. In some of the games, we got kind of carried away.”
Defenseman Andrew Ference agreed.
“There’s a balance between playing with energy, and running around stupid,” Ference said. “If you run around and take a bunch of penalties, sure, you might be winning the physical battles, but when you’re sitting in the box, you’ve played right into their hands.”
The same goes for trying to beat Montreal at its own wide-open game.
“Every time we’ve tried to play run and gun with them, we’ve ended up on the short end of it,” said Julien, citing a 7-4 loss on Nov. 17 as an example. (The B’s matched Montreal goal-for-goal until it was 3-3, then allowed three straight.) “We were able to score some goals on them, but who scored more?”
It’s not that Julien doesn’t want Boston to score four goals Thursday night. He just wants the B’s to do that by playing Bruins hockey, not Habs hockey.
“Our players will know what they have to do,” the coach said. “Hopefully, if we execute it well, we’ll have the results we want.”
Mike Loftus may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.