Well, I suppose if there's a team that has any chance of slowing down the white-hot Boston Bruins, it might as well be their rivals from Montreal, right? The Canadiens have won five of the seven games played between the rivals since the end of the lockout.
The Bruins, winners of 12 straight, host the Canadiens on Monday night. The Habs are coming off a huge 4-3 win at Toronto on Saturday. Boston, meanwhile, won Friday in Colorado and Saturday in Phoenix to keep its season-high win streak going.
"They're a great team, they're extremely hot right now," Habs captain Brian Gionta said of the Bruins after Saturday's win over the Leafs. "It'll be a nice challenge for us and a good test for what lies ahead of us come the playoffs."
Montreal's most recent win was a big one, pushing the Canadiens five points past the falling Maple Leafs. But as Gionta said, Monday's test in Boston might be more about comparing themselves against the best in the East and using the game as a measuring stick to know what they've got as the playoffs approach. The teams could meet up in the second round, for example.
"Good teams seem to bring the best out of you," star Montreal netminder Carey Price said Saturday night. "When you're facing a good hockey club, you're playing a little bit more scared, I suppose. You have to be prepared when you play a good team; they're going to smoke you if you don't. Boston's is a real exceptional team all season. They've got a good coaching staff, a great lineup, and it's going to be a really big challenge for us."
For whatever reason, the Canadiens have enjoyed some success against the Bruins.
"We've been able to play them tough and tight for many years," Gionta said. "They've got a great team, but it's one of those things where we seem to match up well against them."
Added center Tomas Plekanec: "When we're playing our game and using our speed, it seems like they have a problem with that."
And I think that's exactly it -- while the Bruins are a deeper team, and have a huge physical edge over the Canadiens, the Habs have success using their speed and quickness and drawing penalties through that. The Bruins get in trouble versus Montreal if it becomes a special-teams night. Five-on-five hockey favors Boston, so the key again Monday night for the Bruins will be to stay disciplined.
The Bruins finally beat the Habs 4-1 on March 12 in Montreal, although Price was injured and backup Peter Budaj let in a couple of softies that night. Budaj will get the start Monday night.
Still, it was an important win for the Bruins, just to help ease mental concerns about playing the Habs possibly come playoff time. Another win Monday night for the Bruins would go a long way toward erasing any thought of Montreal having their number.
For the Habs, they have to forget the Bruins have 12 straight wins once that puck drops Monday night.
"You have to give a really good team respect, but you also can’t give them too much respect," Price said. "Obviously, we respect what they've accomplished but you can't take it to the point where you're giving them a lot of room out there. You just have to play them tough."
Price, meanwhile, has won three of his four starts since coming back from injury, stabilizing the Habs in the process.
"It's a work in progress, when you're out of action for just about three weeks, it's all about timing and getting a feel for the game," Price said when asked how he felt after Saturday's game. "These guys have been playing well in front of me and giving me pretty good looks."
One guy who looks more and more comfortable in his new surroundings is trade deadline pickup Thomas Vanek, who scored four goals last week. And although he was shut out against Toronto, he looked very dangerous again on a line with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty (who scored the opening goal).
Vanek said afterward he was looking forward to Monday's game in Boston, where as a Buffalo Sabres star over the years he relished those encounters.
After publicly stating earlier this season while with Long Island that he was headed to the July 1 market as a UFA, Vanek was asked Saturday night about whether he's had any thoughts about his future beyond this season.
"As I've said from Day 1, I'm not going to comment too much on it. I'm going to concentrate on the next 10 games and get our chemistry going even better," Vanek said. "But once the year is over, I'll reflect on the past six weeks."
In other words, nothing has changed at this point. Going to the July 1 market remains his goal. The Habs are no doubt hoping that Vanek falls in love with the NHL's most passionate market and has a change of heart about leaving through free agency, much like Alexei Kovalev did years ago after coming over as a rental.
Vanek won't deny his hat trick in Montreal against Colorado last week was electric.
"It was great, it's something I'll remember forever, that's for sure," Vanek said. "The building was unbelievable, I've never heard a building that loud. That was fun."
The Vanek kids, in the meantime, are already decked out in Vanek Habs jerseys.
"Yeah, I mean, they're my kids, that's the good part about being on three teams in a year, they get a lot of jerseys," said Vanek, who has a 6-year-old as well as 3-year-old twins. "Right now at home, it's all about the Canadiens."