It was 20 years ago this month that the Boston Bruins
broke their playoff hex with the Montreal Canadiens
Montreal had beaten Boston in the Adams Division Semifinals four years in a row, sweeping the Bruins in three of the past four seasons, and beating them 3–2 in a best-of-five series the other season.
But for the first time in 44 seasons, the Bruins – behind the goaltending of Reggie Lemelin, the defense of Ray Bourque
and the emergence of Cam Neely
– beat their archrivals in five games, clinching the series in what, until then, had been a haunted Montreal Forum for Boston.
That was the last time the Bruins were heavy underdogs heading into a playoff series with the Canadiens. But after going 0-7-1 against Montreal this past regular season and with the Canadiens a chic pick to win the Stanley Cup as the top seed in the Eastern Conference, it seems the ghosts that once haunted the Bruins every time they faced Montreal in the playoffs are back. Not to mention the fact that the Bruins have lost their last two series against the Canadiens.
“The stats and the record during the season speak for themselves,” said Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron
. “We need to find a way to beat this team.”
Bergeron hasn’t played since Oct. 27, but this past week he skated in full-contact practices with his team and there’s a strong chance he may play in this series. While he simply is happy to be playing again and to be around his teammates every day, there now is an extra incentive for Bergeron to participate in this series and try to help his team end its recent futility against the hated Habs.
Bergeron’s first and only Stanley Cup playoff experience was in 2004 against the Canadiens, and the bittersweet taste that series left him with, when the heavily favored Bruins blew a 3-1 lead and lost Game 7 in Boston, remains fresh.
“Oh, of course it’s still stings,” he admitted. “This is only my second time in the NHL Playoffs and that’s the only playoff memory I have. Once I realized that that’s who we’d be playing, I started thinking about it again. That was a hard one. We had that series to win but we let it get away.”
Ironically, the Bruins enter this series the way Montreal came into their 2004 first-round match-up, with no one giving them a shot to win. An even greater irony, of course, is their head coach is Claude Julien
, the same coach that helped orchestrate that comeback for the Canadiens that year. Many credit Julien’s hard-working, disciplined game plan for the Bruins making it to the playoffs despite top players like Bergeron, goaltender Manny Fernandez
, defensemen Andrew Alberts
and Zdeno Chara
, and forwards Glen Murray
and Marc Savard
being injured for extended periods of time. Bergeron, in fact, sees a lot of the 2004 Canadiens in the 2008 Bruins.
“They were underdogs just like us, but they never gave up, they just kept going,” he pointed out. “I see a lot of that in our team. We never give up and we always work hard. We just need to remember to stick to our system and forget the season series. We need to wipe the slate clean, and if we fall behind in a game or series, don’t panic, just stick to the system. Anything can happen in the playoffs so you never know.”
As far as the chance of playing in another Habs-Bruins playoff series goes, Bergeron, who already was yearning to play again, now says he is raring to get in the lineup.
“It’s exciting, for sure,” he said. “There’s just so much history between the clubs that the intensity gets so high. Your emotions get stronger and it brings out character. You just take so much pride in being part of this.”
Growing up near Quebec City, Bergeron was an avid Quebec Nordiques fan and attended Games 1 and 2 of the Nordiques-Canadiens series in 1993 – the only two games the Nordiques won in the series, as the Canadiens would take the next four in a row to beat their provincial rivals en route to winning the Stanley Cup.
“I went with my Uncle and brother and we sat way up in the white seats,” he recalled.
He admitted to disliking Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy
because he was so good and always would beat his beloved Nordiques.
“We hated him, but it was more of a compliment to him being so good and always making small miracles,” he said.
When he first came to the Bruins, one of Bergeron’s greatest thrills was to be part of the Bruins-Habs rivalry, but so far he has nothing to take home and brag about to his friends.
“They still give me hell for that series and us blowing that lead,” Bergeron said. “It would be just awesome if we could return the favor this time.”