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Friday marks the eighth annual NHL Winter Classic, as the Montreal Canadiens meet the Boston Bruins at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. 

Boston Bruins (20-12-4) 44 PTS
Montreal Canadiens (21-15-3) 45 PTS
Jan. 1, 1:00 PM on NBC
Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Massachusetts 

By William Chase

The annual NHL Winter Classic has been among the true spectacles in sports since its debut in 2008. Friday will mark the eighth iteration of the Classic, pitting two bitter rivals in the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens. The Bruins won their Winter Classic debut in 2010, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1. The Canadiens will be participating for the first time.

Both teams will enter Friday’s contest separated by a mere one point in the standings, the Canadiens in second place and just one point behind the first place Florida Panthers in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins are in third and two back of Florida.

The Habs started off the NHL regular season red-hot, setting a franchise record with nine consecutive wins to start the season. However, injuries, in particular to star-goaltender Carey Price—suffered lower-body injury Oct. 29—are among the reasons why the Canadiens are no where near the form they were in to start the season. 

They’ve also missed the services of right wing Brendan Gallagher, out since Nov. 22 with a broken hand. Gallagher recently re-joined the Canadiens on their current eight-game road trip, and will be back in the Canadiens’ lineup tomorrow. This is good news for Montreal, who is 16-4-2 with their alternate captain, and just 5-11-1 without him. He has three assists against Boston in the prior two games this season.

To contrast, the Boston Bruins got off to a dreadful start, losing their first three games by a combined total of 16-7. The Bruins have since turned it around, and enter Friday’s tilt off the heels of a 7-3 win Tuesday night over the Ottawa Senators, having shaken a prior three game losing streak as a result.

Center David Krejci left last Sunday’s game at the Ottawa Senators and is listed as “week-to-week” with an upper-body injury. The Bruins will miss the offensive production from the 29-year-old Czech, and center Ryan Spooner saw his role elevated to fill Krejci’s void. Spooner, on a line with Matt Beleskey and Loui Eriksson, had two assists Tuesday night.

The Bruins also find themselves minus the services of left-winger Brad Marchand amid the NHL’s handing down of a three-game suspension Wednesday for a clipping incident Tuesday night.

Defenseman Torey Krug found himself back in the lineup Tuesday night, a big plus for Boston as they try to get along without Krec. Among Bruins’ defenseman, Krug co-leads the B’s with 19 points.

The Canadiens have the slight edge in the standings over the Bruins, but don’t let that fool you. They are coming off a dreadful month of December, posting a 3-11 record, and have fallen out of first place, a spot they have held for much of the year.

Key injuries for both clubs aside, Friday’s tilt still packs a heavy punch. For the Habs, left-winger Max Pacioretty leads his club in points (29) and goals (15). Defenseman P.K. Subban leads in assists (25) and penalty minutes (39).

Backup rookie goaltender Mike Condon has been forced to carry much of the load in the absence of MVP Carey Price, posting a less-than-stellar 10-9-3 record, 2.48 goals against average and .904 save percentage. The struggling Habs were prompted to go out and acquire goalie Ben Scrivens from the Edmonton Oilers for forward Zack Kassian.

Scrivens was 2-6-1 through 10 games in the minors. He made his season debut Tuesday night for the Habs in Florida, the Panthers winning the game 3-1.

It will also be a reunion of sorts for Condon, the Boston native and Princeton alum back where it all started for him. He led the Princeton Tigers to a 18-22-8 mark between 2009-2013.

The Bruins are led by points leader Patrice Bergeron (35), the aforementioned suspended and Bruins’ goals leader Brad Marchand (15), and injured assists leader David Krejci (22). Zac Rinaldo, the center and agitator, leads the club in penalty minutes (58) and goaltender Tuuka Rask comes in 14-9-3, 2.41 GAA, .918 save percentage.

A Friday forecast of cloudy skies, with temperatures slated to be around 40 degrees and a slight breeze, is the perfect New Year’s matinee setting.

Deep within the storied fabric of these bitter NHL rivals, the two teams are set to embark on their latest chapter, braving the elements and playing down to the basic roots of the sport like so many before them.

Having faced-off 909 times, the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens have faced each other more times than any other opponents in NHL history. Montreal leads the all-time series, playoffs included, 463-336-103-7. The rivals have faced-off 34 times in the postseason, seven times for the Stanley Cup.

It’s only fitting these two iconic franchises would finally renew their acquaintance outdoors.

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