It's tough to tell when the last time was that a defending Stanley Cup Champion had a must-win game in October, but if there was ever a time, it's now for the Boston Bruins, who head into Montreal having lost six of their first nine, including an embarrassing 2-1 flop against the Habs on Thursday night in Boston.
Of course, it's not like Montreal is running away with the division, either. The Canadiens are just 3-5-2 and have played uninspired hockey in front of Carey Price thus far this year, but they got a lift when the team fired assistant coach Perry Pearn on Wednesday, and since then Les Bleus have won two straight over Philadelphia and Boston.
The Bell Centre has been a house of horrors for opponents, and while enthusiasm (and attendance) has been down thus far this year in Montreal, there's little doubt that they'll turn out in spades to watch their team take the Bruins to task tonight.
Max Pacioretty has been scorching hot of late, despite being held pointless against Boston, and the Bruins still seem to be scraping together the remnants of a team whose Stanley Cup last season is looking more and more anomalous with each passing day. In practice yesterday, Claude Julien returned to the lines that he won last year with, reuniting Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic and David Krejci and inserting Jordan Caron on a line along with Tyler Seguin and Chris Kelly. With Benoit Pouliot ill and unable to make the trip to Montreal, Caron will see some time against his hometown team tonight.
Seguin, though, may be the key. He's been the Bruins most consistent player in the offensive zone, while presumed top center David Krejci has been handing the puck over at will. The sophomore will need to step up big to get the Bruins a much-needed win.
Price and Tim Thomas figure to be in net tonight, unless Julien's looking to keep shaking things up and put Tuukka Rask in to try to give the Bruins that spark they've been missing. But Boston's played with a decided lack of spark in front of Rask in the past season-plus, so it's not likely that we'll see him this time.
If there's anything to be optimistic about, it's that the last time the Bruins had a must-win game in Montreal, they started hot and weathered the storm late, earning a win in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. This game may not mean quite as much, but the Bruins would be foolish to treat it with any less urgency. Expect the Black and Gold to play angry, hit people and buzz the net. And most of all, expect them to come away with a big two points.
Projected Line up:
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Nathan Horton
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Tyler Seguin
Jordan Caron - Chris Kelly - Rich Peverley
Daniel Pallie - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara - Johnny Boychuck
Dennis Seidenberg - Joe Corvo
Andrew Ference - Adam McQuaid
Puck Drop: 7 PM Eastern, NESN, 98.5 The Sports Hub