BOSTON, MA --
Growing up in Ottawa, Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli witnessed the intensity of the Boston/Montreal rivalry through the filter of television.
"The Canadiens were the team we always got on CBC, so they were an impressive team when I started watching hockey on TV in the ‘70s, and obviously in the early ‘80s," said Chiarelli via conference call on Monday. "I watched those series...with the Bruins, and they were great rivalry series back then, and I looked forward to watching them.
"It’s not as deep ingrained in me as it is to those residents in Boston here and to those members of the organization that have been here for a long time. It certainly is emotional to watch and to hear it from Cam [Neely] and Donny Sweeney, some of the battles that they’ve had," he said.
But just by watching the now-familiar scene of the Bruins brass celebrating the B's Game Six victory from their booth in the pressbox during last season's emotional seven-game series, it's clear that Chiarelli understands the intensity of the matchup by now.
"Obviously I’d seen it from afar before I got here, [and] I thought the Ottawa/Toronto rivalry was big, but it’s paled in comparison to this one," said the GM. "I just go back [to] all of the games we’ve played this year, and the playoff series.
"It’s electric, that is how I can describe it, and I don’t think it’ll be anything less when we start on Thursday.
Ahhhh, Thursday. As more than one writer has put it: A (semi) annual rite of spring -- Boston vs. Montreal in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
" I think our guys are really excited to get them going," said Chiarelli. "You saw the emotion, you saw the passion, maybe a little bit overrun by us in the second period against Montreal [last Thursday], and I think they’ll be very motivated to play the Canadiens.
"The Canadiens are a very good team, a very skilled team, and they will also be motivated, the same way we were motivated to play them last year, in opposite spots in the standings."
|Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) checks Montreal Canadiens left wing Sergei Kostitsyn, left, away from the goal in the second period of an NHL hockey game in Boston on Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. The Bruins won 3-1. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) |
Chiarelli said the B's had garnered a lot of experience since Game One of the 2008 playoffs.
"I really think we’ve learned a lot on two fronts: last year, on what it takes to get there and what it takes to play in an intense series; this year, having occupied top spot for a large part of the season, it’s a different dynamic playing against all these teams, with the games being 'statement games,' so to speak, for all these other teams.
"So I think our guys learned to play under different circumstances this year, and I think it will translate into more success in the playoffs."
If the B's are to have more success, they must refrain from letting their emotions get the best of them, a la the second period on April 9th.
"I think you saw in our third period of the game last week that we kind of held our emotions in check, but still played a physical game, and that’s what we have to do," said Chiarelli. "There will be an element of managing that stuff, and I’ll leave that up to Claude [Julien].
"The Montreal power play, although it’s not as successful as it was last year, is a good power play, so I think it’s a function of staying out of the box and managing our emotions."
That said, the B's history with the Habs dictates that these will not just be another set of games for either club.
"You can’t ignore it. It’s there. You have to deal with it," said Chiarelli of that history. "I think the fact that we’ve played them so much last year and this year, I think the guys know what to expect. I think they’re conditioned to it."
"Of course, the last game we played them had been the most up and down and probably the most emotional; it probably most mirrored a playoff game, so that’s probably what we’re going to get."
After all, hockey is an emotional series and B's vs. Habs is an emotional rivalry.
"I think these guys, our players, they’re not perfect, and they’re going to express emotions on the ice, and that’s part of what our identity is, so I think it’s just they know what to expect from an opposition perspective, and also from the playoff perspective in general." said Chiarelli. "I’m thinking they’re going to react well and play well based on that."
|Montreal Canadiens center Kyle Chipchura (28) and Boston Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart (45) fight as players watch from the bench during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Boston on Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. The Bruins won 3-1. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) |
The B's, like the CHC, will depend on their youngest players, some of whom cut their playoff teeth last season, to be at their best during the coming series.
"I mentioned earlier about the different dynamic the team faced this year, being ranked so high the whole year and having to play all these statement games – I’d like to think that has helped them, [and] has contributed to the 'experience,'" said the GM. "I’ve liked the way they’ve played this year.
"We’ve had some statement games from our perspective this year, and I thought we’ve done well, for the most part, so I expect them to step up their play and to build on the experience that they had from last year."
Thankfully, however, there are several members of the Bruins who have actually won a Stanley Cup -- Shawn Thornton
(one Cup), Stephane Yelle (2), Mark Recchi (2) and Aaron Ward (3).
"I think it’s very important, and that was one of the reasons we brought in those players," said Chiarelli. "They’ve contributed off the ice all year, and when we brought in Mark Recchi, he’s really helped out since we brought him in that respect also.
"These guys have that experience, and that is so significant in the playoffs, and that really is a large reason why we brought these players in – obviously for their play, but also for their experience."
And each of those vets leads differently.
"You’ve got Recchi, who’s got some rings, and I think he’s really solidified the composure of our forward base. You’ve got Stephane [Yelle], who’s really helped the back end of the forwards and the defensive side of the forwards, and of course we’ve got Aaron [Ward], who’s helped along the way and has been a very solid voice for our defense. Those guys are important, and the more you can get into your lineup and help stabilize the younger guys, the better," he said.
Asked about the Canadiens as an opponent, Chiarelli talked about the clubs being "close” in skill – closer than the one/eight pairing would lead the casual onlooker to believe.
| Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, center, is congratulated by teammates after the Bruins defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in a shootout in an NHL hockey game in Montreal on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz) |
"I think you just have to look to last year, when they swept us during the season, and then it was a close series," he said. "I think the same is going to apply this year.
"There’s an element of confidence that we have this year, a little bit more confidence...that we didn’t have last year.
"But certainly [the Canadiens] came into the season very highly touted, and they hit their bumps along the way, but they’ve performed well at the end to secure a playoff spot. Their skill is very good, so you can’t ignore it," said Chiarelli.
However, there's no doubt that the expectation level for Boston has also been raised this year.
"I think going into this season, hope became expectation," he said. "Going into this season, based on how we finished, and based on our projections and our players, we had said that we felt we were going to be in the four or five spot in the conference, and with that slot comes higher expectations.
"I don’t think at all this year it was hope; it was always expectations, but the degree of expectations has heightened considerably. I can’t give you the number of rounds, but of course history shows that we haven’t had success in the first round for a long time, so what I can say is, let’s get past game one first, and then I can give you a more clear answer."