Thank goodness. Just a few more hours until the Bruins and Canadiens drop the puck for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals series at the Garden.
The pre-series coverage has been unbearable.
That’s no knock on the writers, talk show hosts, or talking heads on TV – who have mostly done a tremendous job outlining the key points, players, and storylines for this heavily-anticipated set – but rather a criticism of the calendar. It was even worse before we found out when the series would actually begin because, then, it truly felt like this clash was a lifetime away.
It seems like the B’s ousted the Red Wings and the Habs handled the Lightning weeks ago. Part of that, maybe, is that some part of those series felt like a formality for the inevitable. Detroit received far more respect from Boston fans and media than wound up being deserved prior to a challenging but decisive five-game set, and a swept Tampa Bay crew never had a chance against Montreal with Vezina finalist Ben Bishop out of commission. The Canadiens’ desire to turn the Black and Gold black and blue has been circled on the newly-formed playoff bracket since the end of the regular season. You can bet the Bruins wouldn’t prefer it any other way in their quest for a title.
But now, hours away from the first hard hit, the first sign of blood, and the first “accidental” glove flip of the bird, there’s nothing more to discuss.
You know that this is the most storied rivalry in hockey history, perhaps all of professional sports. After all, with a 171st playoff meeting on the docket, no two franchises in any sport have ever met more often (the Celtics and Sixers rank second with 100 matchups; ironic given the current state of those organizations).
With that, you’ve been unable to avoid learning the Canadiens held the regular season series edge, 1-2-1, after holding the Bruins to seven goals in four games and an anemic 1-for-13 on the man-advantage.
Of course, the playoffs have been a different story. You’ve seen the Bruins’ nearly 40 percent success on the power play, as the Habs in a reversal of fortune have experienced a power outage (just 2-for-13).
You’ve heard all about Montreal’s small but speedy stature, just as you’ve listened to Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli point out his club doesn’t exactly mosey along out on the ice. Big and physical were added for good measure – and good reason.
You’ve listened as the trade deadline has been rehashed, and wondered if this series will be a referendum on those few days after the Olympic break. The enemy acquired a B’s killer in long-time Sabre Thomas Vanek (30 goals and 32 assists in 55 career games against Boston), and the hometown team added only spare parts on defense.
You’re well aware both squads will work to get under one another’s skin, with Brad Marchand and P.K. Subban quite possibly at the center of the antics. You’ve been lectured to expect dives, flops, and embellishments, maybe as often as true trips, hooks, and interferences.
You’ve no doubt been told the third and fourth lines could wind up defining the series should a pair of top-flight goaltenders and a dozen top-six forwards prove a wash.
And, of course, no one needs to tell you about the hate. Claude Julien has experienced it as a coach on both sides. Today’s players probably had to check a box on their contracts as part of a pre-signing survey. For fans, it’s in their blood. If not, it’s definitely in the water supply. This next best-of-seven may consist of the four most emotionally challenging wins Julien’s club will have to earn – even with eight to go for a championship should it prevail.
Oh, and everyone short of team personnel has offered a prediction (I’ll take the Presidents' Trophy winners in seven).
Like the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl or the months-long wait for the NFL Draft (that’s still gonna happen, right?), there’s nothing left to ascertain but the results. There’s little else to hear but Rene Rancourt deliver the national anthem. If only the games lasted as long as the anticipation.
At least we don’t have to wait ‘til Saturday.
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