The Montreal Canadiens endured an arduous road trip. The Habs left their city, country, and time zone, and travelled across the continent to take on the toughest the NHL has to offer.
Their weakest opponent, the Phoenix Coyotes, are a playoff contender in a tough conference and they beat the Canadiens handily. The Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, two legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, also took two points from their clash with Montreal. The only team that Montreal was able to take two points from, albeit in a shootout, was the Anaheim Ducks, who entered the week second in the entire NHL in points. Suffice to say that, the Canadiens didn't have it easy while they toured the American Southwest.
Facing the Boston Bruins isn't much easier. Like many of the western clubs the Habs faced, Boston has top to bottom depth and a suffocating possession game. They're well-coached (as painful as it is to say it), and on top of it all, they have an excellent goaltender in Tuukka Rask. The Bruins are the clear class of the Eastern Conference, and a team worthy of challenging the impressive gauntlet run recently by the Habs.
Not only are the Bruins skilled, deep, and organized, they're coming into the game hot. Riding a five game win streak, the Bs have more or less locked up the Atlantic division, and are in a two-team contest for the conference crown. Their goal differential, at +61, is second in the league, and dwarfs the Habs' even differential. For a team that struggled intermittently with disorganization and fatigure, is there any reason to suggest that the Habs might get a different result tonight than they did out west?
There are a couple of factors working in the Habs favour, not the least of which is their return to the friendly confines of the Bell Centre. The Habs looked to be in desperate need of rest and familiarity, and if all has gone well, they'll have found both in their three days off. As talented as a player like Thomas Vanek is, attempting to integrate him into a team on the fly, and against top notch competition, is a nearly impossible task. Regardless of where he ends up, Vanek should be more comfortable with his linemates heading into an important clash.
Of course, regardless of linemate chemistry, the Austrian sniper has proven that he's usually more than comfortable when he's facing the Bruins. In 53 career games against the Bruins, Vanek has an impressive 61 points, including thirty goals. If those numbers alone are enough to endear him to the Canadiens fan base (as if he weren't already), how will we feel when he salts away games with goals like this?
It's only a matter of time before Vanek heats up, and when does, the Habs will have a real weapon on their hands.
Canadiens-Bruins games are almost always excellent, featuring intense, exciting hockey between two teams that seem deeply invested in the outcome. It's been even better of late, as the Habs have enjoyed four consecutive victories over their chief rivals.
The western challenge, with all of the team fatigue, faulty play, and formidable opponents, is over. Now, it's time for the Habs to rise to the eastern challenge.