If Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien wants to make his players believe they actually stand a chance against the mighty Boston Bruins, he shouldn’t run short of arguments. But he will also have to hide parts of the truth.
First, let’s take a stroll down memory lane, shall we?
In early March, Marc Bergevin was a busy man.
After completing a deal for veteran defenceman Mike Weaver on March 4, the Montreal Canadiens' general manager pulled off his biggest coup on trade-deadline day, acquiring coveted forward Thomas Vanek from the Islanders.
Along with fourth-liner Dale Weise, picked up before the Olympic break, Bergevin added three roster players while sacrificing only one -- seldom-used defenceman Raphael Diaz.
Meanwhile, in Boston, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli was probably just as busy, only it didn’t show as much.
His lone deadline deal was to acquire defenceman Andrej Meszaros, who was a healthy scratch for three of the B's five games in their first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings.
Chiarelli didn’t need to be calling, texting, faxing or sending smoke signals as much as Bergevin did, however. His team was pacing the Atlantic Division with an eight-point lead on the Canadiens, and he had quite the summer leading up to the season. In July of 2013, Chiarelli completed a seven-player trade with the Stars, sending forwards Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley to Dallas in return for Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith.
On top of that, he finally got hold of Jarome Iginla, after losing him to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 2013 trade-deadline debacle. And just like that, Chiarelli found the players who turned out to be his top two right-wingers (Iginla and Smith), along with Eriksson, who’s looking to bounce back after a season marred by injuries.
Bergevin was rather quiet in the summer, adding mostly depth with the acquisitions of Daniel Briere and mammoths Douglas Murray and George Parros.
As good as the Bruins?
Which leads us to the latest month and a half of NHL action.
On top of those last-minute deals by Bergevin, the Canadiens got a big boost when goalie Carey Price returned from a lower-body injury that caused him to miss the first eight games after the Olympics.
So, basically, the Canadiens we've seen lately have only been together since March 15. And since that day, their 15-3-1 record is just as impressive as the Bruins’ 14-3-4.
For the last month and a half, the Habs have won one more game than the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins, while playing two less. That is one fact that Therrien has to write in big, bold letters and post everywhere in the locker room.
He can also remind his players that, since March 15, they have been more productive than the third-ranked Bruins offence (in the regular season), scoring an average of 3.32 goals per game, compared to 3.05 for Boston.
And like any good coach, Therrien can also bury some other numbers in a deep, dark hole. For instance, he doesn’t need to remind his players that the Bruins allowed 1.67 goals per game during that stretch, while Montreal allowed 2.32.
Therrien should refrain from noting that on March 15, the Bruins were right in the middle of a 12-game winning streak. Unless he wants to highlight the fact it was his team that halted that string of success.
There are reasons to believe the Habs can pull it off against the Bruins. But for all those reasons, there’s also major evidence that things can go wrong quickly for Montreal.
While David Desharnais’s line will face a gruelling matchup against Selke Trophy finalist Patrice Bergeron, the team’s other lines will find in Tuukka Rask a much sharper goalie than was Tampa’s Anders Lindback in the first round. It’s hard to think secondary scoring will come as easily this time around.
You also have to wonder how many games — dare we say periods? — it will take before forward Alex Galchenyuk, the team’s lone injured player, gets some company in the Habs’ medical room.
As good as the Habs have looked lately, it will still be a major upset should they move on to the Eastern Conference final. The Canadiens got the better of their old foes three times in four regular-season games this season. But it’s one thing to beat a team thrice over a three-month span, and another to do so when you have just one day between games to recuperate from strenuous matchups against the likes of Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara and Shawn Thornton.
This week’s numbers
12 — Points in the first round from the Habs’ “small four" of Brendan Gallagher, Daniel Briere, Brian Gionta and David Desharnais, all 5-foot-9 or less. Will they keep the pace against a bigger Bruins team?
62 — Career points for Vanek against Boston in the regular season, in 55 games. The Austrian winger will hope to keep up with that pace, as he admitted his line “didn’t play great” in the first round.
22 — Shots by Rene Bourque, the most by a Canadien against Tampa Bay. Let’s see how the nine-day hiatus will affect the big winger’s momentum.