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The Montreal Canadiens have dominated their rivalry with the Boston Bruins in recent seasons, ousting their Original Six foes in the first round of the playoffs three times and running off 12 straight wins at one point in the regular-season series.
But as quickly as the surprising Bruins have charged to the top of the Eastern Conference, they've also changed their role in the rivalry.
On Tuesday, Boston will seek a third straight win against the Canadiens, who trail the Bruins by 10 points in the Northeast Division but carry a four-game winning streak into the TD Banknorth Garden.
After eliminating a higher-seeded Boston club in the postseason's first round in 2002 and 2004, Montreal bullied the Bruins all season in 2007-08, winning all eight regular-season meetings en route to the No. 1 seed in the East. Although eighth-seeded Boston pushed the teams' playoff series to seven games, the Canadiens again sent their rivals home for the summer.
But the Bruins (31-7-4) have emerged as arguably the team to beat in the East this season under former Montreal coach Claude Julien, going 26-4-1 since the beginning of November - including a pair of victories over their rivals.
After losing back-to-back games in regulation for the first time all season last week, Boston appears to be back on track, coming off convincing wins over Ottawa and Carolina to move to 16-3-1 at home.
Forward Michael Ryder, signed by the Bruins last summer after four seasons with the Canadiens, scored twice in Saturday's 5-1 win over the Hurricanes, while David Krejci continued his torrid run with a goal and two assists.
Krejci didn't make the All-Star team even though his 37 points since Nov. 19 are the NHL's highest total over that span.
"It will make (Krejci) better," Bruins forward Marc Savard said. "He is out there proving every night he deserves to be there."
Ryder, meanwhile, has already matched last season's total with 31 points. His line, along with Krejci and Blake Wheeler, has helped power Boston's East-leading offense, which has averaged 3.62 goals despite injuries to forwards Patrice Bergeron, Marco Sturm and Milan Lucic.
For the immediate future, the Bruins will need to press on without their leading goal scorer. Phil Kessel, whose 24 goals are tied for fourth in the NHL, was placed on injured reserve Monday with mononucleosis and will miss at least one week.
Goalie Manny Fernandez has also missed time recently with an undisclosed injury, but Tim Thomas picked up the slack with 29 saves Saturday. Thomas, an All-Star for the second consecutive season, is 16-3-1 with a 1.96 goals-against average in his last 20 starts.
After losing eight straight starts in the regular season to Montreal, Thomas made 33 saves in a 3-2 shootout win at Bell Centre on Nov. 22. The Bruins also won 6-1 at home on Nov. 13, ending their 12-game regular season losing streak to the Canadiens.
Though Boston has stolen the headlines, Montreal (25-10-6) hasn't faded, with nine wins in its last 11 games, the second-best winning percentage in the East and victories in four straight games without injured All-Star goalie Carey Price.
While Jaroslav Halak has won all four games, it's been the Canadiens' offense that has stepped up, averaging 5.5 goals over that span. Tomas Plekanec scored twice in a 5-4 win over Washington on Saturday night, as Montreal had four third-period goals and won on Sergei Kostitsyn's goal with 22 seconds left.
"Games are fun to play and everyone was in it, our guys did a great job," Plekanec said. "We came back when they scored and that was great for us, we got on a roll and kept at it."
Montreal's power play has struggled for much of the season after leading the league in 2007-08, but the unit now is 6-for-18 in the last three games. It will have to contend with a staunch Boston penalty kill, as Bruins opponents are 2-for-32 (6.3 percent) on the man advantage in the last nine games.
Lucic, who has become a Canadiens nemesis after fighting Mike Komisarek in November, may miss the game with an undisclosed injury.
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