You can call it deja-vu. You can call it good luck. Or, if all else fails you can simply call it a classic matchup. Forget the Leafs, ladies and gentleman, because we will be playing the Boston Bruins in the first round of this year’s playoffs. Say what you like about them, but they are a good team and will surely make an excellent partner for what should be a great series.
After a pair of wins, one which was posted by our Habs last night and the other which the Bruins grabbed this afternoon in a 3-1 win over New Jersey, the standings have shifted enough to set the matchup straight.
Of course, we all remember the last time our two teams faced in eachother in the second season. We were the eighth seed, a mixed bunch of lunchpailers and lazy veterans, who, when it was all said and done, came together through illness and injury.
Captain Koivu’s miraculous return, coupled with the stellar play of Jose Theodore, Richard Zednik, and Doug Gilmour, led us to the win. After six games of true rivals battling back and forth, we would take the series before later bowing out in the second round.
This time around, the Bruins are no longer a team of gigantic goofs. Yes, without mentioning names, there are still many cement heads wearing the yellow and black, but there have been many changes. Michael Nylander, Sergei Gonchar, and youngster Patrice Bergeron all add skill and offence to the Bruins, while Travis Green and Dan McGillis bring forth some more muscle.
We have made quite a few strides, too. Up front, we have essentially added three top-six forwards in Mike Ribeiro, Michael Ryder, and Alex Kovalev, while losing primarily Doug Gilmour, Donald Audette, and a younger Yanic Perreault. The only question there is how each one of the new acquisitions will perform.
Ribeiro and Ryder, who closed off their seasons with 65 and 63 points respectively, which were incredible accomplishments, have never dressed in an NHL postseason game.
Throughout his days in the AHL, Ribeiro dressed in 17 playoff games posting 10 points, which is not too shabby, but his mark of 43 points in 28 games during his stint in the QMJHL looks quite attractive. However, neither of those leagues compares to the NHL and Ribeiro is a different player now than he was five years ago.
Ryder, who was superb during the Hamilton Bulldogs AHL playoff run last year with 17 points and a +7 rating, appears to have all the traits of a successful playoff player. Of course, only time will tell, but throughout the season we have seen not only goals, but grit. His off-ice work ethic bodes well for him, too. As the saying goes, no guts, no glory. And Ryder has guts.
Kovalev has struggled with us so far, but he will come through. He is a proven playoff performer, having played a grand total of 83 games and notching nearly 70 points, while posting a +4 ranking, too. As long as Claude Julien can find a solid spot in the lineup for him and stops treating like a human yo-yo, this is a player who can outperform any player on either bench.
In net, Andrew Raycroft is in a situation similiar to Jose Theodore. Forget about Raycroft’s rookie status, and you see a young goalie coming off a miraculous regular season looking to proove himself. Unfortunately, Theo doesn’t have any intentions of losing, either. If one of the goaltenders steals a game or two for their side, don’t be surprised.
And with that, there’s no reason why the magic of 2002 cannot repeat itself. Times are different, sure, but the jerseys are still the same, and as long as their is a CH to match a B, we’ll have a damn good time in the first round. Rivalries are what it’s all about.
Go Habs, and stay tuned to HW for lots of post-season coverage.