BROSSARD, QC -- The Montreal Canadiens arrived at practice Sunday finally possessing the knowledge of which team to prepare for in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The fact that it was the Boston Bruins, the Canadiens' arch rival, made the four-day wait for the news a little more bearable. Montreal, idle since finishing off a sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning last Tuesday, can put matchup-specific elements in their preparation.
Boston advanced Saturday afternoon with a five-game ouster of the Detroit Red Wings.
After practice Sunday, the players said it has been a difficult task trying to stay sharp not only physically, but more so mentally. Hockey is a game of routines and when they're broken, especially during the playoffs, it can knock a player or a team out of rhythm.
"It's a little tougher than I thought it was going to be," forward Brendan Gallagher said. "You wake up every day and you just want to be playing. You feel like the first couple of days were nice to get rested and recover; but we're there now. We finally know who we're going to play and now that you know, you're just getting hungrier and hungrier for the Game 1 puck drop.
"We just want to play and the schedule makers will let us know soon when we'll actually play. Once we know that actual date, it will be easier to be ready. But [it's] better we know our opponent now because we can just practice with a purpose and every drill we do will be specific to Boston."
The second-round schedule won't be announced until later this week; the first round ends Wednesday at the latest.
The Bruins and Canadiens are one of the most-storied rivalries in sports and this series, the Canadiens know, will captivate the city and the majority of hockey fans around the globe.
"I've been here a few years and any time we have success in the playoffs, the city really gets behind you," Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges said. "They love their hockey here so much that anywhere you go you bump into people and they're excited about us and I'm sure they're really excited that we're playing Boston too. They'll enjoy it as much as we enjoy playing in it."
Gallagher has already gotten a taste of the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry, but not in the playoffs. He is excited to be part of what he expects to be another memorable series.
"I think the history that comes with Montreal-Boston, you can already sense the fans getting excited about that rivalry and as players we love to be a part of it as well," he said. "So you're just trying to add a little bit to history, go out there, and be on the right side of things."
Forward Travis Moen hasn't played in a game since the Canadiens beat the Bruins 2-1 in a shootout March 24, a victory which snapped Boston's 12-game winning streak. Moen suffered a concussion in a first-period fight with Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller in that game, but appears close to returning.
"It's always exciting playing against them for sure," Moen said. "It's another Original Six team and we get to battle against them. We play well against them, but they got a tough team and it's going to be a challenge."
Not only did the Canadiens beat the Bruins on March 24 at TD Garden, but they beat their rivals in three of the four meetings in the regular season.
"I think both teams just get up for it," Moen said. "We play well against each other a lot in the past and it makes for exciting games. Both teams get up for the situation. I think obviously we'll try and use that to our advantage, but I think playoff hockey is different than regular-season hockey.
"There's a lot more emotion involved and for us to be successful we have to play a team game, limiting turnovers and getting to the front of the net. Their goaltender [Tuukka Rask] is a solid goaltender, so for us to have success we have to play a team game. They're a great team. That's why they finished first. They're big, strong, physical and they've got lots of skill. They have great goaltending and we have to be on top of our game."
In the playoffs, emotions are at a higher level everything is under a microscope. The Canadiens understand the process and were already displaying their plan to stay tight-lipped in talking about the series.
"You don't ever want to give your opponent motivation so you have to watch what you say," Gorges said. "Being here long enough, I know that you guys will ask questions to try and get us to say something where you'll take part of it and only print that one part of it to make us sound like we're trash talking the other team or we think we're better than we are. Whatever it may be, you have to be cautious of what you're being asked and how you may answer it.
"There's nothing for us to really say that should give them any bulletin-board material. They've won a Stanley Cup in the last four years, were there again last year and they're the Presidents' Trophy winners. But we haven't accomplished any of that, so we're trying to surpass the top team. This is the best team in the NHL, so we know what challenge lies ahead of us. It's going to be tough, it's going to be hard and we have to focus on ourselves and what makes us good."
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