The Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins have the best rivalry in the NHL, and any contest played between the two teams feels special. When you have a game that would already be big, and compound it with the urgency of the drive toward the playoffs, the ferocious competition of the teams' last three games, and the blow-for-blow Northeast Division battle being waged by the two squads, the tension becomes palpable. The Canadiens and Bruins are set to add another exciting chapter to their storied history.
For a time, it appeared that two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference would face each other at a time that neither team had the luxury of icing their number one forward. The Bruins lost centre Patrice Bergeron, scorer, leader, and face-off man extraordinaire, during a win over the Senators earlier this week. While his concussion has been described as moderate, there does not appear to be a timeline in place for his return. The Canadiens, meanwhile, will not be without their own number one centre, Tomas Plekanec. Plekanec left the Canadiens' Wednesday game with Philadelphia after straining his groin, but took the morning skate with his usual linemates and should be ready for tonight.
When these two teams met ten days ago, the Canadiens were raked over the coals by a Bruin top line of Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Tyler Seguin. With Bergeron unavailable, the Bruins have shifted Seguin to centre, while trade deadline acquisition Jaromir Jagr will line-up opposite Marchand. While it would be difficult to replace Patrice Bergeron's skill-set with any player in the NHL, the addition of Jagr to the already talented duo of Seguin and Marchand will make for a line that Canadiens will continue to have to look out for. Jagr has 27 points in 35 games this season, including a goal in his Bruins debut. Jagr has also proved proficient over his career against the Habs, tearing them apart to the tune of 83 points in 70 career games. Even at an advanced age, Jagr is one of the best players in the history of the game. Jagr will somewhat mitigate the loss of Bergeron, at least in the offensive zone, and will give the Bruins two solid lines at the top of their forward group.
Besides Bergeron, the Bruins will be missing d-man Adam McQuaid and the dependable Chris Kelly. The Bruins will have another trade deadline pick-up, veteran Wade Redden, available for tonight's match-up. Redden has been a solid third pairing option in his return from salary cap purgatory, and will improve the Bruins defensive depth. The Bruins will also have the option of playing 24-year-old Matt Bartkowski tonight, as it appears he will not be traded for Jarome Iginla.
With the looming Tomas Plekanec crisis seemingly averted, the Canadiens are slowly beginning to return to health. Colby Armstrong is still sidelined, but the Canadiens will benefit from the presence of Ryan White and Brandon Prust in their forward group. The truculent pair were not available for the Habs last game against the Bruins. Raphael Diaz and Rene Bourque also appear to be progressing in their respective rehabilitative routines, and Bourque even took the morning skate. Bourque, Gabriel Dumont, and Mike Blunden were the three forwards that did not appear to have spot for this evening, however. The pride of Hudson, Wisconsin, Davis Drewiske will make his third appearance on the Canadiens' bottom pairing.
Tuukka Rask will likely be the man in net for the Bruins this evening, as he continues his futile quest to earn a victory against the Habs. Rask has only two victories in eleven career starts against the Habs, and with the Canadiens five goals last time out, his career save percentage against Montreal has dipped to .898.
The Canadiens will counter with Carey Price, who had struggles of his own against the Bruins when he last saw them. Price made it through only two periods, allowing four goals before being pulled in favour of the indomitable Peter Budaj. One could make an argument as to Price's culpability on those four goals, but regardless, the Canadiens will need to find a way to ensure that fewer pucks end up in their net if they want to win tonight. Look for Price to come back with a strong performance against the Canadiens' most bitter foes.
For Bruins coverage, furious hyperbole about the terrible things Carl Soderberg will do to the NHL when he finally arrives, and preview of tonight's game from the Bruins perspective, check out Stanley Cup of Chowder.