Canadiens, Bruins set to renew rivalry after mid-season bye weeks

Boston Bruins' Brad Marchand (63) collides with Montreal Canadiens' Tomas Plekanec during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Boston on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

BROSSARD, Que. — The mid-season break was nice but now the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins can get back to their rivalry.

After not facing one another in the first three months of the season, the Canadiens and Bruins will play each other three times in the next eight days. It starts Saturday night at the Bell Centre.

Both teams are coming off their bye “week,” which was actually four full days off followed by one late afternoon practice on Friday.

“We have a tough schedule coming up but it’s definitely nice to get away and enjoy life for a few days,” said goaltender Carey Price, who spent the break in Florida with his family.

The Canadiens (18-20-4) need to go on a major winning run for any hope of getting back in the NHL Eastern Conference playoff race. They won two games in a row at home before the break, but that followed a five-game losing streak. Now they play five times in an eight-day stretch, three of them against the Bruins.

Meanwhile, the Bruins (23-10-7) are among the league’s hottest teams, going 8-0-3 in their last 11 outings and 11-1-3 in their last 15.

Celebrating heroes of the game, Sportsnet and Scotiabank unite to bring a 4-day hockey festival to Swift Current, Sask., and a 12-hour national NHL broadcast to Canadian fans coast-to-coast on Feb. 9.

That’s one reason coach Claude Julien was thinking less about getting even with the Boston team that fired him last February, before being hired shortly after by Montreal, and more on trying to keep his team’s modest winning run alive.

“I really like to get the guys to focus on the task at hand rather than look to far ahead but we’re not stupid,” said Julien. “We know what’s ahead of us and what we need to do.

“When you watch that team lately, they’re playing their best hockey of the season the last month or so. They’re firing on all cylinders. So we’re going to have to be good and face a team that hopefully cooled off a bit with that break.”

He liked what he saw in practice, saying the players looked rested rather than rusty.

The end of the break saw the return of defenceman Victor Mete, who helped Canada to gold at the world junior championship. He was paired with David Schlemko in practice, so he is likely to play against Boston.

When Mete was loaned to the national junior team, many thought he would go back to the junior London Knights after the tournament, but general manager Marc Bergevin opted to bring him back to the NHL squad. Bergevin said Mete would “probably” spend the rest of the season in Montreal.

“If we kept him here we certainly expect to play him,” said Julien. “We haven’t looked further than that.

“For now, I’ve got a guy at my disposal that I’m going to use the best way I can.”

Mete was all smiles at being back. It turned out that the end of the world juniors coincided with the Canadiens break, so he got to visit his family and rest up.

“I was excited,” said Mete, 19. “Obviously getting sent down, my only goal was to win a gold medal and after that I only wanted to come back and that’s what happened.

“Playing international (hockey) against those guys showed me how much faster it is up here. I need to keep playing the way I am and don’t change anything.”

The Canadian junior squad didn’t have any star players, but used a strong team game to get to the final, where they edged Sweden for gold. Mete got lots of ice time and turned in a solid performance, particularly on the defensive side.

“We had for balanced lines — I think every line had about the same amount of points for the tournament,” he said. “Also we had a lot of chemistry.

“Most of the guys played under-17 and under-18 together, so there was not a lot of getting to know each other. I think that played a big role in such a short tournament. We’d already bonded before.”

Forward Ales Hemsky, who has not played since Oct. 20 due to a concussion, skated in a no-contract jersey. There was no word on when he would be ready to play again.

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