Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun preview tonight's two big rival matchups: Canadiens-Bruins and Penguins-Flyers:
Burnside: Well, my friend, there are a couple of monster tilts tonight, so let's waste no time in getting to the match du jour (that's game of the day in French, in case you had forgotten).
The Montreal Canadiens will be in Boston for Le Match De Grudge against the Bruins. The NHL is on super-secret alert for this one, warning the respective GMs that it wants no monkey business in the wake of the controversial Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty earlier this month. They've assigned two veteran referees, including Dan O'Halloran, to police the match. It should be interesting.
Not sure what Mark Recchi was saying, but the NHL's oldest player appeared on Boston radio yesterday suggesting the Habs were maybe trying to embellish Pacioretty's injuries to improve the likelihood that Chara would be suspended (he wasn't). Yikes. The Bruins also canceled today's morning skate and media availability. All of that said, I wondered what you expect out of tonight's tilt. Me, I am guessing just another hard-as-nails game between two teams that really don't like each other much. Nothing more, nothing less.
LeBrun: What exactly Recchi was thinking, I'm not sure. I've always liked the veteran winger, he's a terrific guy, a joy to talk to and quite the story considering he's still playing the game at this level at his age. But to say something like that about the Canadiens and Pacioretty crosses the line. It's a slippery slope when you start guessing at the severity of an injury of an opposing player. Either way, it just spices up what is already a fired-up rivalry. Think anyone will be watching this game tonight? Just imagine another playoff series between these two Original Six rivals.
As for revenge, the Canadiens don't have a traditional tough guy in their lineup, so I'm not exactly sure how much rough stuff they can really drum up other than some physical play. I think Montreal's revenge is going to have to come on the scoreboard. And that's the thing, as much as the B's have been able to push the Canadiens around physically, it's the Habs with a 4-1 series lead this season, and that's the key in this whole thing. Montreal's speed and quickness has proven to be too much for Boston.
Given that both teams might meet up in the playoffs, you have to think the Bruins desperately want to make a statement with a win tonight and not head into the postseason having lost five of six to the Canadiens.
Burnside: Agreed. When we talk revenge here, I don't foresee it being a '70s-style bloodbath, but rather a statement game that may resonate if the two teams do meet in the playoffs.
The Habs have an outside shot at catching Boston for the top spot in the Northeast; they are three points back and the Bruins have a game in hand . But imagine the storylines if the Habs do win tonight and the teams do hook up in the first round. This is a Bruins team that blew a 3-0 series lead against Philly in the second round last spring. They'll have to deal with that when the playoffs start. Now throw in losing five of six to Montreal and there will be a lot of negative karma floating around Beantown to start the postseason.
So, what's your prediction? I say the Bruins come up with a big 3-1 win. But I'd also like to talk about another big game tonight, Pittsburgh in Philadelphia. There's more than a little angst in Philly about the Flyers' goaltending after Sergei Bobrovsky seems to have hit a wall. The Penguins can put a dint in the Flyers' hopes of finishing with the top seed if they win tonight.
LeBrun: Put me down for a Bruins victory, as well -- in overtime. In Philadelphia, the Flyers continue to drive their fans crazy in March, although their shootout loss to the Capitals the other night was a terrific game. Still, can't imagine how Philly fans would feel if the Flyers lose to the Alex Ovechkin-less Caps and the Sidney Crosby-less Penguins. The Flyers have gone 4-3-3 this month, so far failing to get back to the kind of dominating hockey that got them to the top of the Eastern Conference. You just have the sense that a statement win over the Penguins is needed for the Flyers to turn the corner.
Burnside: That game against the Caps was dynamite, that's for sure; but you're right -- the Flyers have fallen back to the rest of the East pack with a thud in recent weeks. Maybe that's a good thing for them, though. A little dose of reality before the playoffs start. You know coach Peter Laviolette will be riding them hard down the stretch to make sure they're ready to go come mid-April. That's why tonight's tilt looms large.
Like Boston, the Flyers will want to hit the postseason with some positive energy, regardless of the fact they look destined to win the Atlantic and finish in either the No. 1 or No. 2 hole. The Penguins, meanwhile, continue to surprise with a 6-2-2 record in their past 10 games. They would like to hold on to home ice with the fourth seed. And with Crosby continuing to skate on a regular basis, there is more optimism he may return this season after all. Prediction? I say the Penguins add to the Flyers' angst with a shootout victory. What say you, oh great seer of all things hockey?
LeBrun: I see the Flyers winning in regulation tonight. You mentioned Bobrovsky earlier; isn't it just amazing how the Flyers get to this point nearly every season and we're still wondering about the goaltending? Michael Leighton got his team to the Cup finals last season, but was questioned in the end. Now, he's not even in the picture. Veteran Brian Boucher has had a solid season and he's my pick to start the playoffs. Come playoff time, he'll be matched up at the other end of the ice against either Henrik Lundqvist or Carey Price or Ryan Miller or Cam Ward. Food for thought. Until tomorrow, my friend.