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Article written by "Too close to

Who would you
rather the Canadiens face in the conference final?  I had my answer immediately
because in truth, despite all my superstitious urges not to jinx the team while
they looked like they were on their way to victory, I had started thinking about
it midway through the third period of game seven against the Penguins. 
Hopefully my fellow fans can forgive my hubris, since the Habs did in fact
manage to hang on to their lead and win the game.  There was no late game
collapse to blame on me for counting penguins before they were hatched. 
Although there were many factors to consider, it seems most if not all
ultimately brought me to the same conclusion.

The first thing I
considered was the season series against both teams.  When looking at it through
this lens, the Bruins are clearly the favoured option for the Canadiens.  The
Habs were 5-1 against the Bruins this season, with two of those wins coming in
the shootout and two others being won quite decisively (a 5-1 win in the
Centennial Game on December 4th and a 4-1 win on March 2nd).  Meanwhile against
the Flyers, the Habs’ record was a 2-2 split.  Does the regular season series
record matter?  The answer is a resounding “maybe.”  In the first round of this
year’s playoffs every team that won the regular season series with their first
round dance partner went on to win the playoff series as well.  The second
round?  Well the most glaring counterexample is most likely well known to anyone
reading this; the Penguins owned the Habs in the regular season going 3-1, and
yet the Habs managed to win the playoff series in seven games.  Meanwhile over
in the Western Conference, the Red Wings, 3-1 winners of the regular season
series, fell to the Sharks in only five games.  So if you believe regular season
performance is an indicator of playoff success, then as a Habs fan you would
have to prefer the Bruins, but it appears that might be a rather large “if.”

So I then moved on to more
warm and fuzzy considerations like emotion and sentimentality.  Like any sports
fan, these things matter to me.  But as a Habs fan, isn’t there a natural
inclination to hate both those teams?  The Flyers just might be the most hated
team in the league by fans of all 29 other teams.  I will never forget Hextall
rushing out of his crease to hit Chelios in the 1989 playoffs, or the brawl that
ensued.  And the pain of the 2008 playoffs still stings.  There is a lot of fuel
for animosity towards the Flyers.  Those who have trouble forgiving and
forgetting might even still feel particular scorn for Daniel Briere choosing the
Flyers over the Canadiens when he was a free agent in the summer of 2007.  Then
there are the Bruins.  If familiarity breeds contempt, then the Bruins and Habs
should have more contempt for one another than do any other two teams in the
NHL.  Personally, even though I would be scolded by many of my fellow Habs fans
for saying so, I have to say I hate the Flyers more.  But even still, a
Habs-Bruins playoff series just feels right.  Is it even the playoffs if those
two original six teams don’t square off with one another?  Habs vs. Bruins is a
rite of spring.  It is possible I feel that way because over the years, the Habs
have come out on top more often than not.  But I also happen to be of an age
where I vividly remember losing to the Bruins in the playoffs on several
occasions in the late 80s and early 90s.  I suffered much sadness and
disappointment at the hands of Ray Bourque, Cam Neely and Andy Moog.  And let’s
not forget that our last playoff loss to the Bruins was only 13 months ago, and
in four games straight, no less.  Still, my heart wants to play the Bruins
because that’s just what the Habs are supposed to do.

After asking my brain and
my heart, it was time to check my gut and consider all the other intangibles
that seem to matter in the playoffs.  What about goaltending?  Well the Flyers
have been depending on Brian Boucher and now kinda-sorta-ex-Hab Michael Leighton
to get the job done.  Hardly an imposing goalie tandem, and yet they are doing
just that; they’re getting the job done.  Logic would clearly favour the Habs in
this category, except that logic has yet to arrive in these playoffs when it
comes to the Flyers. Boucher bested Brodeur, and he and Leighton have now
stretched Tuukka Rask – he of the league-leading GAA and save percentage in the
regular season – to seven games.  I won’t be the one to tempt fate by suggesting
that the bottom is sure to fall out of the Flyers goaltending sooner or later.

What about style of play? 
The Habs have tended to fare reasonably well this season when playing against
more skilled, skating teams.  Meanwhile they have struggled against teams that
play a more physical checking style.  The Flyers are definitely in that second
category.  Not that they don’t have a lot of skilled players who skate very
well, because they do, but the fact remains that the Flyers are a physical team
who can punish their opponents and score goals with brute force and a ferocious
forecheck.  Yes, the Habs have withstood the Caps and the Pens, both teams that
can hit with the best of them, but to me that is simply more cause for concern. 
How much more physical abuse can our Habs take before they break?  Can they stay
disciplined while being manhandled by the bigger Flyers? 

But the truth is that I
actually do think the Habs have better goaltending.  And I think our guys do
have enough heart and discipline to withstand the Flyers physicality.  The real
reason why I do not want to play the Flyers, the reason that trumps all others
for me, is because right now the Canadiens are the team of destiny.  I have
heard it more than once up to this point; nobody wants to play the Canadiens. 
The team that beat the heavily-favoured Presidents Trophy winners, and then
defending Stanley Cup champions is now a team that believes in itself.  They
have done what nobody expected them to do to make it this far.  This is a
definite advantage for the Habs.  If the Flyers manage to beat the Bruins and
become only the third team in NHL history to erase a 3-0 series deficit and win,
then that advantage becomes moot.  If the Flyers win their fourth straight game
to take the series in seven, then they will be the team with the mojo.  And that
is the one thing I do not want to happen.

So that is why for one
night only, I will say “Go Bruins!”