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(ADAM HUNGER)
(ADAM HUNGER)

Edge taken off Habs, Bruins rematch Add to ...

Just wait, they said, we'll be seeing them again soon enough. And we'll remember this.

But something happened after the Feb. 9 outbreak of old-time hockey thuggery at the TD Banknorth Garden - total penalty minutes: 187 - both the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins started winning hockey games in bunches.

For all the talk and recriminations following the game, it appears the grinding of axes and settling of grievances from last month's brawl-fest will have to wait.

"I don't think anyone's going home tonight and putting on Rocky I, II or III," said Habs centre Scott Gomez, who was a miserable minus-4 in the game last month, and spent most of the third period on the bench.

More than anything, the Habs want to draw within three points of the streaking, division-leading Bruins, and closer to their ultimate goal: "We want home ice in the playoffs," Gomez said.

Or as veteran defenceman Hal Gill - he of the goals in consecutive games after a 99-game dry spell - put it: "If winning is revenge, then, yes, we want revenge."

On current form, the Canadiens could well exact it Tuesday, in their return to the Bell Centre - rookie centre Lars Eller is playing with growing assurance alongside the rugged Travis Moen and a rejuvenated Andrei Kostitsyn, who has points in six consecutive games.

And despite limited ice time, fellow NHL rookie David Desharnais (11 points in 12 games since Feb. 6) and young winger Benoît Pouliot have formed another potent duo that suddenly gives the Canadiens four lines that can score - a useful thing to have against the mighty Bruins and the rest of the Eastern Conference elite.

Given the history between these NHL teams, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if it all kicked off again. But the Canadiens in particular have every incentive to avoid the rough stuff - Boston's way more suited to it, and the Habs' regular style has resulted in a 9-2 mastery of their old foe since November of 2009.

Pouliot, who tangled with David Krejci last month (to the Czech centre's decided disadvantage) said his team needs to stick to what it does best because, "if we want to go to the top of the division, we have to win this game."

"You never know, the Bruins could decide to leave the silliness out and just play hockey, we'd be good with that," Pouliot added.

The day after the last encounter, which Boston won 8-6 - an unlikely score for two of the East's top defensive teams - the Habs called up rough-and-tumble winger Ryan White to add more grit to their lineup, he is expected to dress Tuesday.

The Canadiens were especially peeved at Johnny Boychuk for continuing to batter Jaroslav Spacek after he fell to the ice - rookie winger Brad Marchand's postgame comments and Greg Campbell's elbow-pad assisted thrashing of Tom Pyatt also left lingering impressions. But if they ended up on the losing end of both the score and the fight card in Boston, the Habs have shown no lasting ill effects.

They are 6-3-2 since Feb 9, and are 4-1 in their last five, having given up only six goals in four consecutive wins - and only one of those on the opposition's power play.

Part of the reason is the acquisition of defenceman Brent Sopel, a penalty killing specialist - indeed the team has yet to lose when Sopel is in the lineup.

The 34-year-old rearguard took a "therapy day" on Monday - along with sniper Michael Cammalleri, who blocked a shot off his ankle in Saturday's win in Tampa.

It wasn't immediately clear whether one or both will be missing Tuesday.

Another reason for the Habs' recent surge is goaltender Carey Price, who was awarded the third star of the week for his brilliance on an unbeaten three-game swing through Georgia and Florida.

"He's been our best player and our most consistent player," Montreal head coach Jacques Martin said of his 23-year-old goalie, who has vaulted himself back into the Vézina Trophy conversation.

That's the same Martin who fumed about "gestures that we will remember" at the end of the last Boston-Montreal tilt, although on Monday he preferred to put the emphasis on the hockey end of things.

"This is a good game to measure where we're at as a team right now," he said.

The Bruins are 7-3-1 since Feb. 9 - like the Habs, they went into a brief slide after that game - but haven't lost in regulation in three weeks, reeling off a 7-0-1 string over the span.

That's more daunting than the prospect of going into a corner with the likes of Milan Lucic, Shawn Thornton and Zdeno Chara.

"I don't think we're going to scare anyone but at the same time we're not going to back down, that's the way it is," Gomez said. "We didn't give a good showing there last time, and it's a big challenge. We need these points."

Follow on Twitter: @MrSeanGordon

 

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