In 2011, the Montreal Canadiens were one overtime goal from defeating the team that ended up winning the Stanley Cup. The Boston Bruins won three of the four final games of the series – all of them in overtime – to win the series in seven games.
That could have been residual regression from 1993 when the Canadiens famously won 10 straight overtime games, or it could have just been the cream rising to the top. Either way, you can say the Canadiens have learned a lot from that series.
On that 2011 team that took a 2-0 lead against Boston, seven skaters who played a playoff game are still with the team – Tomas Plekanec, Brian Gionta, P.K. Subban, Travis Moen, David Desharnais, Lars Eller and Ryan White. Three more – Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges and Max Pacioretty – were injured and didn’t play but were a part of the team. Carey Price started all seven games.
Those players were able to avoid blowing another 2-0 lead when they took it against the Tampa Bay Lightning and ended up winning both games returning to Montreal.
It also helps that players like Thomas Vanek and Pacioretty replacing Benoit Pouliot and Scott Gomez on the top line and that Alexei Emelin and Markov are replacing James Wisniewski and Jaroslav Spacek. Not to mention that 2011 team also had Tom Pyatt, Jeff Halpern and Mathieu Darche – guys who wouldn’t even sniff this lineup. They did lose key parts in Roman Hamrlik and Mike Cammalleri. Despite that, Montreal is definitely a better team than they did in 2011.
It should be noted that Boston also has a better team with Dougie Hamilton replacing Tomas Kaberle among others. But two key members of that 2011 team are gone, namely Mark Recchi and Nathan Horton who scored two of the overtime winners. You could say Montreal has improved more than Boston but Boston has been to two cup finals in three years so there’s only so much they could have improved.
It should be noted that the 2011 Bruins suffered the hard way as well – blowing a 3-0 lead to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010. Just more proof that you need to learn how to lose before you can learn how to win.
The biggest question mark will be with goaltending. Tuukka Rask will need to be very good for Boston to win the series. The same could be said about Carey Price. Basically, if a goaltender is much better than his opponent, that team will likely win the series. These two teams are much closer than they appear as evidenced by Montreal’s 3-1 record against Boston this season despite Carey Price starting only once.
The way I see it, from a Canadiens perspective, a Stanley Cup would be nice no matter who they play. However, much like a certain team from Boston in 2004, it would be a whole lot nicer going through what is currently their biggest rival. It should be a really interesting 4-7 games. Canadiens in six.