It's certainly the most anticipated of the eight 2011 first round NHL playoff series, and on Thursday night, the Boston Bruins will host the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1. There are a ton of storylines, starting with the long, storied history between the two teams an ending somewhere along the stanchion between the benches at Bell Centre.
But for each team, the focus will be on not letting the other get under their skin. Should this series turn into a blood bath, the improbable and the unlikely becomes much more possible. For the favored Bruins, that shouldn't be too exciting a proposition.
Saying the Boston has the edge in goal isn't necessarily a knock on Carey Price and the Canadiens. It's really just a credit to the work Tim Thomas has done in goal this season. Thomas is the front runner for the Vezina Trophy, and there's no two ways about it -- without him, the Bruins might not have even held off the Habs for the Northeast title.
Price has been fantastic for the Habs too, of course, and we can't toss out his ability to steal a game or two in a series as well. When compared with Thomas' Vezina resume, the goaltending doesn't seem all that close, but both goaltenders have the ability to turn this series on its side. Edge: Bruins, but it's slight.
Among the eight Eastern playoff teams, the Montreal Canadiens scored less goals than anybody in the regular season with just 216. That's 30 less goals than the Bruins, who aren't exactly the world's best scoring team themselves.
There's balance in the attack with Brian Gionta, Andrei Kostitsyn, Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri, but it's tough to match that up with what Boston has up front. Milan Lucic leads the charge, with Nathan Horton, Brad Marchand, Mark Recchi, Michael Ryder and a cast of several others following suit. Edge: Bruins
After struggling on the blueline for a large portion of the season, the Bruins bolstered their defense quite a bit at the deadline by picking up Tomas Kaberle. Now, Boston is able to ice three pairings that can take some of the load off of Thomas in the net. Zdeno Chara obviously is the big man they rely on for heavy minutes, and he's the kind of work horse that will pace the Bruins defensively.
The Habs get a ton of offense from their blueline thanks to P.K. Subban, and there are certainly nice parts around him in the form of James Wisniewski, Hal Gill, Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek. But do they really stack up with the likes of Chara and Kaberle? Edge: Bruins
The Habs are outclassed by the Bruins on every level at even strength, but if there's one department in which they can take an advantage over Boston, it's special teams. Boston is just mediocre on both the penalty kill and the power play, ranking right in the middle of the NHL pack in both departments.
Montreal, meanwhile, has a top-10 power play and a top-10 penalty kill this year. Subban has a cannon from the point that's extremely dangerous, while Cammalleri and Gionta also shine when up a man. Edge: Canadiens
Game 1: Thurs., April 14 at 7 p.m.
Game 2: Sat., April 16 at 7 p.m.
Game 3: Mon., April 18 at 7:30 p.m.
Game 4: Thurs., April 21 at 7 p.m.
Game 5*: Sat., April 23 at 7 p.m.
Game 6*: Tues., April 26 at TBD
Game 7*: Wed., April 27 at TBD
View the full first-round playoff schedule here.