The Montreal Canadiens had the best of the Boston Bruins during the NHL's regular season, but Don Cherry doesn't believe that trend will continue in the playoffs.
The two Original Six rivals open their best-of-seven playoff series Thursday night in Boston. Montreal won four of the six regular-season meetings between the two but the colourful and outspoken host of CBC's "Coach's Corner" believes injuries on defence will be the Canadiens' downfall against the Bruins.
"They (Canadiens) are not the same team without Josh Gorges and (Andrei) Markov," Cherry said during an NHL conference call Monday afternoon. "That's a big killer to them right off the bat."
Cherry also believes the goaltending matchup between Boston's Tim Thomas and Montreal's Carey Price will be key in the series, and with good reason. Both were stellar this season.
Price appeared in 72 games for Montreal, posting a 38-28-6 record with a 2.35 goals-against average, .923 save percentage and eight shutouts. He finished tied with Vancouver's Roberto Luongo for most wins by a goalie.
Thomas was no slouch, either. He appeared in 57 games, posting a 35-11-9 record with a 2.00 GAA and .938 safe percentage (both league bests) with nine shutouts.
However, Cherry said Price must exorcise some playoff demons as last season he could only watch as Jaroslav Halak put the Canadiens on his shoulders and led the team to the Eastern Conference final before losing out to the Philadelphia Flyers. In the off-season, the Canadiens committed to Price by dealing Halak to the St. Louis Blues.
"Price has got to live up to Halak," Cherry said. "He's had a great season but he's got to do what Halak did last year.
"Everybody will (have their) eyes on him. It should be a dandy. I don't think there will be any trouble, as they say, unless there's a blowout so it should be another good tough one and I'm picking the B's to win."
The Canadiens and Bruins are long-time bitter rivals but their rivalry hit a fever pitch when Boston defenceman Zdeno Chara's hit Max Pacioretty into a stanchion last month. Cherry, a former head coach of the Bruins, said the urgency of the playoffs and importance of discipline should combine to keep both teams on their best behaviour.
That is, as Cherry says, so long the score in a game doesn't get lopsided.
"Everybody realizes it's the playoffs, you can't go running around," he said. "As long as the game is close, you have to play it smart with no retaliatory, dumb penalties and things like that.
"If you have any marks, you don't start collecting them in the playoffs ... although, like I said earlier, if a game gets out of control and somebody runs up a score because this has been going on since the 70's the bad feeling (between Habs and Bruins). But no, you pretty well have it under control in the playoffs."
And TSN hockey analyst Pierre McGuire says Montreal can't afford to simply want to settle the score physically with Boston. Instead, he adds the Canadiens would be better suited using their superior team speed to their advantage.
"If the Canadiens try to make it a street fight they're doing down fast," he said. "They have artillery to play that kind of game.
"But if Boston takes penalties, Montreal's power play is unbelievably effective against them so that's probably going to guard against some of the potential nastiness you could see. If the Bruins want to play physical in a smart way they have a chance to do some good things in the first round."