I initially picked the Boston Bruins to beat Montreal in seven games, but after seeing the first six games of their second round series, I’m changing my mind for Game 7 Wednesday and taking the Canadiens instead. Here’s why:
1. Carey Price. What, you’re surprised? Price has outplayed Bruins counterpart Tuukka Rask in the series – the former has posted a save percentage of .929 or higher in four of the six games, while the latter has posted an SP higher than .893 in just two of those games – and all of Price’s four career shutouts have come against Boston. Either goalie can steal Game 7, but Price has looked more prepared to this year.
2. P.K. Subban. The Habs defenseman has been the best player on either team in the second round and has set up camp in the Bruins’ collective head. He’s already spoken publicly about “taking away” the energy and noise from what promises to be a raucous TD Garden arena in Game 7. At this stage, would you bet against him? Not me.
3. The Pressure Is All On Boston. At the start of the regular season, many, if not most hockey observers pegged (a) the Bruins as odds-on favorites to win the Eastern Conference; and (b) the Canadiens to be a young team not quite prepared to make a deep playoff run. So Montreal being where they are – on the verge of upsetting the NHL’s Presidents’ Trophy winner in Round 2 – allows them to play a little freer and easier than the Bruins, whose window in which to win a Cup shrinks with every grey hair on Zdeno Chara’s 37-year-old head. In other words, Boston’s players are more likely than Montreal’s to squeeze their sticks and come up short with tentative play.
4. Montreal’s Skaters Are Helping Price More Than Boston’s Skaters Are Helping Rask. Bruins wingers Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson have combined for just three goals and five points against the Canadiens and center David Krecji has only one assist in the series. The Habs are getting better production out of Dale Weise (who scored a goal and two assists against Boston), Lars Eller (two goals, four points) and Mike Weaver (one goal, three points). You need your best players to be your best players in the post-season, but you also need help from the rest of the lineup and Montreal has the edge so far in this regard.
5. Special Teams. If the series is decided by one or two penalty calls, the numbers say Montreal is in a better position to capitalize on them than Boston. The Canadiens’ power play (operating at a 27.3 percent efficiency rate) and penalty kill (81.8 percent) are better than Boston’s ability to score with the man advantage (25.8 percent) and to prevent power play goals (77.5 percent).