BROSSARD, Que. — The Montreal Canadiens are ready to add another chapter to one of hockey’s greatest rivalries.
After eliminating the Tampa Bay Lightning in four games, Montreal is preparing to face Boston in the second round of the NHL playoffs. It will be the 34th time the clubs have met in the post-season — more than any other two teams in North American pro sport — in a rivalry that dates back to 1929.
“There’s been a rivalry between these two teams way before I was ever here and before I ever even knew about hockey,” Montreal defenceman Josh Gorges said Sunday. “When you look back at previous years, and you look at the history of the organizations, those are two great organizations that have a lot of pride.”
Though the second-round schedule has not been released, the series could start as early as Thursday. The teams will find out when they play once the other first-round series are complete.
Boston will enjoy home-ice advantage since the Bruins finished ahead of Montreal in the regular-season standings. The Bruins had the best record (54-19-9) in the league and will play the first two games of the best-of-seven series at home.
“When you play this team, you know you’re in for a tough night,” said Gorges. “Nothing comes easy against Boston.”
This will be his fourth time facing the Bruins in the playoffs.
“You have to fight for everything,” Gorges said. “They’re very well structured. They don’t give you much. You have to fight for your real estate, to get on the inside, to get second chances in front of the net. They have some big bodies and a lot of talented players on that team who can create things out of nothing.”
Thomas Vanek, who was acquired by the Canadiens from the New York Islanders at the trade deadline in March, is new to the rivalry. However, he knows what to expect from one of the league’s toughest teams.
“They have some big forwards who can really grind you out,” he said. “We need to stay positive on the bench. Against Boston especially, it’s a team that doesn’t give up much. We have to adjust to a big team that plays well and is coached well.”
Vanek has been particularly successful against the Bruins in his career, collecting 62 points (30 goals, 32 assists) in 55 career games.
“You have to beat some big teams to get the ultimate prize, and this is one of those teams,” he added.
The Canadiens won three of four games against Boston in the regular season, including both games at TD Garden. The Bruins have taken seven of the last 11 playoff games between the two clubs.
“What the Boston Bruins have done in the last few years in the playoffs is as good or better than any other team in the league,” said Gorges.
“They’ve won a Stanley Cup in the last (three) years, they were there again last year, they won the Presidents’ Trophy … we haven’t accomplished any of that.”
In their most recent post-season encounter in 2011, the Bruins eliminated the Habs in the first round with a Game 7 overtime victory. Boston went on to win its sixth Stanley Cup.
In 2008, the Canadiens beat Boston in seven games in the Eastern Conference quarter-finals, before being swept by the Bruins the following year.
However, it’s less common for these rivals to face off in later rounds. The Canadiens haven’t played the Bruins outside the first round since 1992, when Boston swept Montreal in the division final.
The last six meetings between the clubs have all been first-round matchups.
“We’re expecting a long series,” said Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher. “We’re playing the best team in the NHL. Every game is going to be a battle. Every game is going to be a grind. We’re putting together a game plan that can be successful.”
The Canadiens have been waiting since last Tuesday, when they completed their sweep of the Lightning. So it will be a wait of at least nine days between rounds.
Gallagher said the break is a little more challenging than he thought it was going to be.
“You wake up every day and you just want to be playing,” he said. “The first couple of days were nice to get rested and recovered. But we’re there now. Now that we know who we’re going to play, we’re even hungrier for the puck drop. We just want to play games.”
The second-round matchup was confirmed Saturday afternoon when the Bruins finished their first-round series in five games by beating the Detroit Red Wings 4-2. Boston dropped the opener before winning the next four games, scoring 14 times in the process.
In order to find success, the Canadiens will have to contain Boston’s offence-minded blue-liners and an impressive power play that went 6-for-16 in the first round. Vezina Trophy finalist Tuukka Rask has been in form and forward Milan Lucic has been an offensive force with a team-high three goals against Detroit.
“At the end of the day, we’re trying to win a Stanley Cup and Boston’s trying to win a Stanley Cup,” said Gorges. “That’s all that matters. That’s what you think about when you come into this series.
“We want to beat these guys because we want to make the next step, get to the next level and continue fighting for the ultimate goal.”