-- After being told all about the White Tigers' infamous "White Hell" for the past 24 hours, the Boston Bruins
showed they have the mental fortitude to survive such hostile surroundings.
Don't underestimate the importance of that, as the Bruins brought an up-and-down exhibition season to a close with a 7-1 victory against Liberec at Tipsport Arena.
Boston opens the regular season on Saturday with the first of two regular-season games against Phoenix during the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere series at Prague's O2 Arena.
"It's a nice way to finish up," forward Patrice Bergeron
said. "We wanted to finish up strong and we did that."
Nobody finished stronger than Bergeron, the likely No. 1 center with star Marc Savard
on the shelf to start the season. Bergeron put up a five-point night, scoring two pretty breakaway goals and adding three assists, including the play of the night on a shorthanded goal by rookie Jordan Caron
"He scored some nice goals and made some nice plays for us," coach Claude Julien said. "Patrice is one of those guys that takes things seriously no matter what time of year it is."
Plus, he did it in a truly unruly atmosphere. Tipsport Arena was loud all night, the 5,500 fans packed into the arena clapping and chanting to the beat of the drums throughout the building and waving white towels in a "White Hell" performance that has become legendary throughout the Czech Elite League.
"The fans are different here, a little more vocal, a little more loud," Boston forward Blake Wheeler said. "It was a great atmosphere."
Wheeler was most surprised that the fans never let up, despite the fact that the home team was being blown out in third period.
"I think in the U.S., if you were down 7-1, the building would be half-full at best," he said. "You can see these people have a lot of pride in their team and in hockey in general."
They certainly saw a bravura performance by Bergeron on this historic night -- the first time an NHL team played a Czech elite league club.
Amazingly, both of Bergeron's breakaway goals -- the game-winner in the first period and the first goal in a four-goal outburst in the final 20 minutes -- came on exactly the same breakaway move.
Sprung alone into the zone each time, Bergeron intimated that he was going to go to his left before stopping just inches from the crease and instead taking the puck to the right to befuddle the Liberec goalies.
On his first goal, Bergeron left starter Marek Pinc stranded. Then, in the third, he pulled the same trick on Thomas Vosvrda, who came in at the start of the period and was strafed for four goals in his first 10 minutes.
"I got to switch it up, I guess," Bergeron said with a smile. "I don't really think on breakaways. I just take what the goalie gives me."
Yet, those highlight-reel goals weren't even the best play of Bergeron's night.
That came on Caron's shorthanded goal in the second period, a goal that severely dimmed Liberec's come back hopes After Andrej Podkonicky had scored on a scintillating 2-on-0 breakaway with former NHLer Petr Nedved to cut the lead to 2-1 early in the second.
While Caron got credit for the goal that made it 3-1 -- he did fire a rising wrister that handcuffed Pinc and squeezed between the goalie's arm and body -- it was Bergeron that did all the work.
First, the slick center broke up a D-to-D pass and then, refusing to give up on the play, intercepted a hopeful pass by Nedved and fed the puck to Caron in one fluid motion to set in motion a 2-on-1 counterattack.
Bergeron added his second assist on the game's fifth goal, setting up rookie Tyler Seguin
for a pretty goal. It was Seguin's third goal on this European trip, as he netted two in Saturday's win against the Belfast Giants Select team.
His final assist was a pretty pass to Blake Wheeler on a 2-on-1 that resulted in an easy goal.
"I think a lot of guys are feeling good about themselves right now, confident with the puck on their sticks," Wheeler said. "Goals are goals, no matter who you score them against. I think a third period like that really helps us."
The Bruins got contributions from up and down their lineup. Gregory Campbell
, Seguin and Nathan Horton
-- all first-year Bruins -- found the back of the net. The power play converted for the second-straight game and the penalty kill was perfect, with a shorthanded goal to boot.
Plus, let's not forget that goalie Tim Thomas
, fighting his way back from offseason hip surgery, looked really strong Tuesday night. He made several quality saves and had no shot on the 2-on-0 goal. More importantly, he said he left feeling good after his second exhibition start in three games.
"Do I want to keep getting better? Of course I do," Thomas said. "But I thought I played fine tonight. I need to feel like myself again and I feel it is coming."
He thought his team played even better.
"That was a good step toward the regular season," he said. "We gained confidence as the game went on and that was really good to see."