The Boston Bruins head to Canada after Wednesday’s practice en route
to their first playoff game against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night at the Bell Centre.
The B's certainly know they’re in for a tough battle and the general consensus outside the Hub of Hockey is that the Habs have a decided edge in the series. However, at beginning of the season, the B's were said to be nowhere near playoff material.
We know how that turned out.
It’s always said that April begins an entirely new hockey season and, as Boston gears up for their first playoff run since the 2003-2004 season, they look ready and on track.
The Black & Gold continue to work to prove everyone wrong – again.
And as the media entered the locker room after Tuesday's practice session, it was only a bit ironic that the song playing loudly on the stereo was none other than Aerosmith’s “Dream On.” The Past is Gone
Head coach Claude Julien doesn’t like to discuss his past playoff runs, but he’s got some training in just this situation: in the 2003-2004 playoffs, Julien coached the Habs to an upset of – yup, you know it – the very team he now coaches.
Still, Julien isn’t counting his chickens before they hatch. He just sees that series as a lesson that will, he hopes, help the B’s this time around.
“I’ve had an opportunity to see all kinds of different situations,” Julien said. “You learn, and you see different things, and you try to share those experiences with your players, and hopefully that can help them down the road.”
In fact, every season is just as much a time to learn for players as it is for coaches.
“I’m no different than a player,” said Coach. “You learn from experience, and when you’ve been through it and through different situations, you grow.
“The longer you coach in this league, the more comfortable you become, the more confident you become, and the more knowledgeable you become.”
But, Julien said, he knows not to dwell in the past, whether it’s about the Canadiens upset of the Bruins in ’04, the B’s 0-7-1 record against this season’s Habs team, or even a player’s experience in the playoff atmosphere.
“I don’t think that I’m going to start looking at what’s happened in the past,” he said. “I think we’ve got to look at what’s going to be best for us today, tomorrow, and the day after, for our hockey club.”Andrew Ference
, who went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004 with the Calgary Flames, agreed.
“You can draw on [the past],” he said, “but it’s a different game.” Live and Learn
Many memberts of the Black & Gold have experience in playoffs in foreign leagues and the AHL, but for some, the next weeks will be their first experience of post-season play in the NHL.
Thankfully, however, they’re surrounded by some teammates with playoff experience, including Shawn Thornton
, who won the Stanley Cup last year with the Anaheim Ducks.
“They all say the same thing: it was the 'funnest' times of their lives,” said Milan Lucic
. “This is what everyone plays for, and it’s a fun time in hockey, but you’ve got to work hard, everybody’s got to pitch in and do a job.”
“I’m definitely excited,” added Petteri Nokelainen. “I think it’s going to be great atmosphere.”
Coach Julien hopes advice will be passed to the younger players, but he’s also aware that experience isn’t everything.
“When the puck gets dropped, whether you’re young or old, you need to be able to put up the effort that’s needed to win games,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”
In the locker room, some players had words of wisdom for those who will be playing in April for the first time.
“It’s not really all that much different,” said Tim Thomas
. “I’ve played in other playoffs, and you’ve got to approach [these games] the same you did any other playoffs.”
Most of the team agreed: it’s best to leave well enough alone.
“The best advice would be to [just] play the game,” said four-time NHL playoff veteran Zdeno Chara
. “It’s easy to [say], but it’s the best way... just to play their best and play hard.”
Some young players hope their experience in other playoff competitions will help keep their nerves down.
“Having to go through [the playoff pressure], you gain a little experience, but then again it’s a new level [in the NHL], and everyone’s play goes up a notch,” said Lucic. “There will probably be a little bit of butterflies, but I think after the first shift, I think it’ll go away.”Dream Yourself a Dream Come True
So what, exactly, do the B’s expect Thursday night – and the rest of this series – to bring?
Essentially, they’re expecting more of the same: “physical games, emotions and desperation,” in the words of Captain Chara.
“I’m sure the first couple of shifts especially, it’s going to be absolutely nuts,” said Thomas, “but almost every time we play there, even in the regular season, it’s pretty crazy…so I can’t imagine how it can be much different.”
In this season’s games against the Habs, the team has seen exactly what they can and cannot do, and they know the kind of game the Canadiens bring to the table – especially on their power play.
“Being disciplined is going to be a huge thing for us,” said Lucic, “so if we’re playing smart, if we’re sticking to the game plan, we’re not going to be taking penalties. And if we’re skating and hitting and whatnot, playing clean, that just helps us.”
The team is most worried, however, about their own game – not that of Montreal.
“We want to play our best,” said Chara. “We know who we’re playing against, we know they’re a good team, so we just have to play our best.”
“I don’t think we have to go out of our way to get under anyone’s skin, but you have to play hard, you have to play physical, and that’s always been a big thing in the playoffs,” added Lucic. “I think for us, we see around this room, ‘The bangers gotta bang,’ and that’s exactly what we’ve got to do.”
One thing’s for sure: the Black & Gold aren’t getting themselves all worked up about what many see as a one-sided match-up.
“I think it’s really [exciting],” said Nokelainen of the Habs-B’s series. “We definitely have a chance, we just have to play our game.
“We’re going to be OK in here.”