The second round series between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins features the defending Norris Trophy winner, and a candidate for the award this season. To say there are elite defenders involved in this series is no understatement.
But which team has the edge on the blue line?
The Habs are led by all around defender P.K. Subban who can play at a high level at both ends of the rink, blending a highly skilled game with a gritty style that won’t allow him to back down against the physical Bruins.
Subban led the Habs defense all season, finishing the year with 53 points, sixth most among NHL blue liners. He continued to pile up numbers in the four game series against the Lightning, collecting five assists and ending the series tied for the team lead in points.
Subban is at his best when paired with veteran shot blocking machine Josh Gorges. Gorges led the Habs in shorthanded ice time, averaging 3:21 per game in the regular season. He missed 16 games with a broken hand but still finished the season with the fifth most shot blocks in the league with 177.
The Gorges-Subban pairing is complemented wonderfully by the Russian duo of Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin. Markov plays in all situations and is not showing any signs of slowing down at the age of 35. He is a great offensive player and quarterback for the Habs power play. Markov scored 43 points this season, 21 of which came with the man advantage.
Surprisingly, Markov also blocked 180 shots which placed him fourth among all NHLers this season. It was expected that Markov would slow down as the season came to a close, since this was his first full season since 2009. However, Markov led the Habs in ice time in the opening round, and though he failed to register a point, he played a very solid two way game in helping sweep the Lightning.
Emelin has played his best hockey of the season down the stretch and into the playoffs. The heavy hitting Russian defender missed the first quarter of the season recovering from off season knee surgery, and struggled upon returning to the lineup.
After being scratched a few times and moved around to a few different pairings, the Emelin of old finally reemerged. Emelin brings a great balance to the Canadiens top four, as Subban and Gorges both play a physical game, but don’t deliver the same punishing body checks that Emelin is known for.
Habs coach Michel Therrien was very comfortable in putting either of his top two pairings out against Steven Stamkos in round one. You can be sure that the top four will be tasked with shutting down both the Bergeron and Krejci lines, but won’t necessarily be matched up against a specific line.
The Habs bottom pairing in round one saw Mike Weaver lining up with Francis Bouillon. The pair of veterans play a fairly simple, safe style and Weaver is leaned on to help kill penalties. The Habs may also turn to either Douglas Murray or Jarred Tinordi as the pair of mammoth defenseman watched the opening series from the pressbox. The 6’6 Tinordi or 240 pound Murray may be used against a physical team like the Bruins in favor of the 5’8 Bouillon.
The Bruins defense is led by gigantic Zdeno Chara. The 6’9” Slovakian defender won the Norris Trophy in 2009 and is one of three finalists for the award once again this season. He leads the Bruins in ice time in all situations, and is one of the most difficult players in the league to play against.
The Bruins received a tough break when Chara’s regular partner Dennis Seidenberg was lost for the season with a knee injury. They did however, get much more than they could have imagined out of Torey Krug in his first season in Boston.
Krug was an undrafted free agent signing by the Bruins two years ago, and scored 40 points in his first full NHL campaign. He was excellent on the power play, outscoring Chara 19-15 on the Bruins man advantage. Krug also led Bruins defenders with five points in the opening round series against the Red Wings.
Dougie Hamilton had a solid sophomore season for the Bruins, scoring 25 points and earning time on the second power play unit behind Chara and Krug. He stepped up in the first round series, scoring four points in five games against the Red Wings.
Johnny Boychuk is the penalty kill specialist of the Bruins blue line, averaging more ice time than anyone aside from Chara at both even strength and when shorthanded. Boychuk finished second on the Bruins in hits with 158 and his 151 blocked shots were the most of any Bruin.
With Adam McQuaid injured, the Bruins top six is rounded out by rookies Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller. Andrej Meszaros is also on the Bruins roster but has not worked out well since being acquired at the trade deadline and has been a frequent scratch.
The Canadiens had plenty of questions to answer on their blueline early in the season. However, the return of Emelin, the acquisition of Weaver and even the steady play of Tinordi who is waiting his turn, has made this a formidable group of defenders.
The Habs are fortunate to be healthy and rested heading into the second round series, and the Bruins have been missing Seidenberg since he went down with an injury in December.
With Markov and Subban providing the offense, and Gorges, Emelin and Weaver playing solid shut down roles, the Canadiens have the edge on the blue line in this second round series.