Six months too late, Bruins finally get shot at Habs

BOSTON — It’s one of great “what ifs” from last spring.

What if the Bruins had swept Philadelphia and were well-rested in the next round against a Montreal team that needed seven games to beat Pittsburgh?

What if the Bruins had just won one more game and could’ve squared off with the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference finals?

We’ll, of course, we’ll never know what would’ve happened. But the missed opportunity to stage yet another Boston-Montreal series did nothing to tamp down the rivalry even one little bit. That’s why the Garden will be rocking again tonight starting well before the drop of the puck at 7 p.m.

The Habs team the Bruins will face tonight is much different than the one they would’ve faced last May. Instead of going Boston’s route and keeping a goaltending tandem that can be deemed 1 and 1A, Montreal decided it was better to spend the money elsewhere and pick between its two netminders — Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price. The Habs opted to stick with Price and ship Halak to St. Louis, which — as we saw last Saturday — is more than happy Montreal made that decision.

But Montreal, so far, is pleased as well. After a rocky start and some back-and-forth banter between Price and the Habs fans, the 23-year-old has settled in. He is 8-5-1 with a .918 save percentage and 2.28 goals-against average. Coming off his second shutout of the season, Price has allowed more than three goals just once all season.

Price, 9-2-2 with a 2.39 GAA career against Boston, will be a tougher puzzle to solve for the David Krejci-less Bruins forward corps than Pittsburgh’s Brent Johnson was last night.

Where the Bruins should be able to exploit the Habs is on special teams. Montreal is last in the league in power-play percentage, while Boston’s penalty kill is on top. The lack of fear of a penalty here or there could make all the difference in Boston’s defensemen trying to slow down Montreal’s speedy forwards.

Often all these stats mean little when Boston and Montreal meet. This game won’t have the fanfare that Game 1 of the conference finals would’ve had last spring, but it’s still the first installment in the next chapter of one of the game’s most heated rivalries. And it should live up to the hype.

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