The Boston Bruins will be looking to avenge a brutal defeat in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, building a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 lead against the eventual conference champion Philadelphia Flyers, before losing four straight to get knocked out in the conference semi-finals. The Montreal Canadiens also return to the playoffs looking for redemption after falling to the Flyers in last year’s conference finals. Continue reading to check out our hockey picks in this contest.
#6 Montreal Canadiens
How They Got Here: Montreal looked like a playoff team all season long, riding a top-notch defense headed by goalie Carey Price and excellent special teams play. The Canadiens were seventh in the NHL in both power play percentage (19.7%) and penalty kill percentage (84.4%), boosting their run to the playoffs. Montreal clinched their No. 6 seed with a 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
Player to Watch: With apologies to captain RW Brian Gionta, who leads the team with 29 goals, C Tomas Plekanec is the man to watch for the Habs. Plekanec has played a big part in the Canadiens success during the 2010-11 NHL season, leading the team in assists (35) and points (57), and he was the top forward on the team in plus/minus (+8). Plekanec is considered one of the better two-way centers that the league has to offer and will be counted on to beat the tough Bruins defense.
Goalie Outlook: Carey Price was one of the most used goaltenders in all of hockey this season, appearing in 72 games for Montreal and compiling a respectable 38-28-6 record. Price had one of the top save percentages in the league (.923) and his 2.35 GAA is nothing to sneeze at either. The Canadiens will depend on Price to play well between the pipes, as the Bruins have one of the most formidable defenses in the NHL.
Key to Victory: Montreal has one of the weakest offenses of any team in the NHL playoffs, averaging just 2.6 goals per game (21st in hockey). If they are to get past the Bruins, they are going to need a lot of help up front from Gionta and Plekanec, as well as help from old veterans like Scott Gomez. With Price in net, the Canadiens have a chance to knock off the Bruins, but will need the front line to do their part.
#3 Boston Bruins
How They Got Here: Boston led the Northeast pretty much from start to finish during the regular season and clinched the division title over a week ago. The Bruins looked like they were going to land the No. 2 seed until a late season push from Washington bumped Boston down into the No. 3 seed. Boston has been a force to reckon with this season and is the only team in the Eastern Conference that is in the top five in goals scored (3.0 per game) and in goals against (2.3 per game).
Player to Watch: Could it be anyone other than defenseman Zdeno Chara? Chara has been masterful this season and will be in the running for another Norris Trophy. Chara was tops in the NHL in plus/minus (+33) and has notched 14 goals and 30 assists to cement his reputation as one of the best defensemen in all of hockey. Chara has also proven to be a menace on the power play, with a powerful slap shot that let him light the lamp eight times on the man advantage.
Goalie Outlook: Tim Thomas is a virtual lock to win his second Vezina Trophy after a magical 2010-11 regular season. Thomas not only is first in both save percentage (.938) and GAA (2.00), but he is miles in front of second place in both categories. In fact, his save percentage is the highest recorded in NHL history, topping the previous best of .937 set by the legendary Dominik Hasek over a decade ago. His 35-11-9 record isn’t too shabby either.
Key to Victory: With the combination of Chara and Thomas, the Bruins can shut down anyone in the NHL. Though Montreal doesn’t have the scorers that some of its Eastern Conference cohorts have, the it did score 20 goals in six games against the Bruins this season. Chara and Thomas will need to reverse this trend if the Bruins hope to move on.
2010-11 Regular Season Meetings
March 24th – Boston 7 – Montreal 0
March 8th – Montreal 4 – Boston 1
February 9 – Boston 8 – Montreal 6
January 8th – Montreal 3 – Boston 2
December 16th – Montreal 4 – Boston 3
November 11th – Boston 1 – Montreal 3
Season Series Notes: Montreal won the season series 4-2 against its division rival and won all three of its home game against the Bruins. The home team went 5-1in the six games between the two teams.
The Final Word: Although Montreal has been the better team head-to-head, the Bruins won the division title and have one of the top defenses in the game. Contrary to some of their previous games, expect a low-scoring series and great performances from Chara and Thomas.
Stanley Cup Free Picks: Boston in 6
Aaron Ryan has been in the sportswriting biz since the late-90s, and he has worked side by side with some of the best and brightest in sports gambling. Always searching for the best trends in sports, Andrew uses his brilliant math mind to his advantage to beat the books.