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Lecavalier, St. Louis & Briere Grace Garden

by John Bishop / Boston Bruins
Maurice "Rocket" Richard, of the Montreal Canadiens, is shown in action on Dec. 14, 1954. (AP Photo)
Bruins fans of a certain vintage used to speak/complain about talented hockey players named Georges Vézina and Aurele Joliat.

Others now talk with reverence/frustration of Maurice "The Rocket" Richard and Jean Béliveau.

Still more can recall and grieve about the prowess of Marurice's brother, Henri "The Pocket Rocket" Richard, Yvan "The Roadrunner" Cournoyer, and [shudder] Guy Lafleur.

And hey, there remain sections of the TD Banknorth Garden where the words "Patrick Roy" can bring forth a froth of fear and anger.

Obviously, these men all played for the Montreal Canadiens -- the Flying Frenchmen or, as Wikipedia lists them, "Les Canadiens, Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge, La Sainte-Flanelle, Le Tricolore, Les Glorieux, Les Habitants and Le Grand Club."

However, it's been years since the Habs held sway over la Belle Province in terms of NHL prospecting.

Rule changes and the amateur draft have made it difficult for the Canadiens to keep the best talent in Quebec in Montreal. And although the ghosts of the Forum (and now, the Bell Centre) have helped ensure highly competitive teams, many of the surnames listed under "Montreal Canadiens" on their most recent Stanley Cup championships are not French.

However, the era of the dominant French Canadian player, the Flying Frenchman if you will, has not ended -- it's just spread its wings.

Tampa Bay Lightning's Vincent Lecavalier (4) celebrates a goal with teammate Martin St. Louis during. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
This week is a good example of that phenomenon, as the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Philadelphia Flyers will invade the Garden led by players of French-Canadian heritage.

Thursday's opponent, Tampa Bay, boasts one of the league's best players (of any lineage) in Vincent Lecavalier.

Lecavalier (from Ile Bizard, QC) is thought to be the closest thing in the current NHL to the great Beliveau and that comparison might not be by accident. Lecavalier wears number four in honor of the Canadiens legend, and even played him in a movie about Beliveau's teammate, Rocket Richard.

''My grandfather liked Jean Béliveau, that's how it all started,'' said Lecavalier to The New York Times very early in his career. ''He was a very nice guy, a very classy guy.''

The same is often said of Lecavalier.

Martin St. Louis (from Leval, QC) used to grace metro Boston's ice rinks when he was a teammate of Tim Thomas' at the University of Vermont. Today, coupled with Lecavalier, he is one of the NHL's most formidable forwards.

A fireball capable of hard work along the boards or neck twisting moves on the attack, the diminutive St. Louis is a force to be reckoned with -- just like the man who he honors by wearing number 26, former Montreal Canadien, and Stanley Cup Champion, Mats Naslund.

"I've spent every game I've ever played making sure I'm outworking the other guy," St. Louis told The St. Petersburgh Times in 2002. "If you're the one who's outworked, people start to think it's because you're too small.

"You don't want to give anyone a chance to say, 'Yes, but his size ... ' Trust me, there's been a fair amount of time when I've heard that. I'm battling it every day of every year. And that's fine. It makes me work harder. When you accomplish things people don't expect you to, it feels twice as good."

Often, after gearing up to stop Lecavalier, St. Louis tends to make his opponents feel twice as bad.

Saturday's game boasts a key matchup with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Philadelphia Flyers Danny Briere, left, and New Jersey Devils Andy Greene chase the puck during. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
Everyone knows the history between Boston and Philadelphia, with particular emphasis on this year and the Patrice Bergeron (the B's own Quebec-born superstar) and Andrew Alberts' injuries.

But the Flyers, too, employ one of the NHL's best Quebecois in Danny Briere.

Briere, too, grew up (in Gatineau, QC) admiring the Habs, but at times during his career, Briere's motivations did not come from that admiration.

"To be honest with you I thought they would, being French Canadian and all, I thought they might be interested," said Briere to in 2006 on the subject of the Canadiens passing on claiming the forward off waivers early in his career. "I played junior an hour from the Bell Centre so they knew about me.

"I was shocked, it was tough on my ego."

These days, Briere is part of the new-age Broad Street Bullies after being signed to a lucrative contract during the off-season.

And with 25 goals and 35 assists for 60 points, most players would be pleased with such a season. But Briere, who joined Philly with some high-expectations, has fought through injury and adversity to help keep the Flyers in the playoff race.

"I'm one of the leaders and one of the guys they brought in to turn this around," said Briere to "I realize that comes with expectations as well. "Yeah, it's not an easy thing to go through. But I understand what's going on.

"I've been down before and I didn't quit."

And neither will his Flyers, who need playoff points just as much as the Bruins.

Of course, if you are a fan who would like to spend some time watching the B's take on the original "Flying Frenchmen," you need not wait very long.

Boston has the Montreal Canadiens on the schedule for next Thursday, March 20th.
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