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Tim O

Bruins and Canadiens set for Game 7 – as we should have expected

Montreal Canadiens' Brendan Gallagher, right,  goes up against Boston Bruins' Zdeno Chara during first period NHL hockey action Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, in Montreal. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

Montreal Canadiens' Brendan Gallagher, right, goes up against Boston Bruins' Zdeno Chara during first period NHL hockey action Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, in Montreal. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

Of course Boston and Montreal are going to a Game 7, what else did you expect?

The Bruins may have been the favorites. They may have finished with 17 more points than the Canadiens in the regular season. But the shifty, skilled, counter-punching Habs, and their elite goalie, are a tough matchup for Boston. Besides, three of the last four playoff series between these two have needed a Game 7. It’s the best rivalry in the NHL, you should have expected it to go the distance.

You should also expect the Bruins to win Game 7 tonight at TD Garden. The better team usually comes out on top over the course of seven games, and Boston is the better team. Plus, Game 7s also tend to favor the more physical team, and there’s no doubt that distinction belongs to Boston.

The series may be tied at 3-3, but the Bruins have controlled more than their fair share of play. Even in Monday’s 4-0 loss, Boston’s worst performance of the postseason, the Bruins had long stretches of puck possession in the offensive zone, but just couldn’t finish. Total shots on goal isn’t the most sophisticated way to quantify offensive pressure, but it gives a rough idea, and Boston has a 205-179 edge in total shots for this series.

That difference would be even greater if the 13 pucks the Bruins have clanged off the pipes counted as shots on goal, but they don’t. If just two or three of those had found net instead of metal, this series might be over. They didn’t, of course, and the Canadiens deserves plenty of credit for absorbing Boston’s time of possession advantage and pipe ringing and then making the most of their counter-punching opportunities.

You can play that “if” game with any sport, especially hockey, which even has an established term for it – “puck luck.” Plenty of hockey games feature one team controlling the run of play only to lose in the end. It’s one of the characteristics that defines the sport.

But over a span of seven games, that puck luck should even out, and the team that controls play should come out on top. Maybe that explains some of the comments from the two coaches after Game 6. When Boston’s Claude Julien was asked what he expected in Game 7, he said, “We expect to win.” When Montreal’s Michel Therrien was given a chance to respond to Julien’s statement, he went all cliché and said, “Anything can happen in a Game 7.”

Perhaps Therrien was just being diplomatic, but he’s already shown he’s not afraid to engage in some verbal sparring with Julien through the media. It seems more like an honest assessment of what to watch for in Game 7. The Canadiens will need some of those “anything can happen” bounces and breaks, and to their credit, they have the players who can capitalize on them. The Bruins, on the other hand, just need to be themselves – and stop hitting pipes and missing open nets.

A big part of Boston’s identity is their physicality, and you should expect plenty of that tonight. Referees in all sports tend to swallow their whistles in these kind of loser-goes-home situations, so the Bruins would be foolish not to push the physical/penalty limits. They have the edge when it comes to size and strength, and they’ve proven they’re a better team when they take advantage of that edge.

Boston shied away from its tough-guy brand of hockey in Games 3 and 4 in Montreal, perhaps with good reason. The Canadiens were probably going to get the benefit of the doubt on most calls on their home ice in front of their rabid fans, so Boston kept things peaceful and committed just two penalties in those two games. Maybe that was wise, but the Bruins lost Game 3 and needed an overtime goal from an AHL call-up to salvage a split, and probably the season, in Game 4.

But when the series returned to TD Garden for Game 5, the tough-guy Bruins returned, as well. Boston was aggressive from start to finish, and even though the Bruins took five penalties and Montreal scored both of its goals on power plays, it was clear that physical style worked in Boston’s favor.

The Canadiens were the more aggressive team on Monday. They played with the physical desperation of team facing elimination, the Bruins couldn’t match it, and now we have a Game 7. We should have expected it all along.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or at tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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