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Bruins look for answers as losing skid to Montreal drags on into playoffs @NHLdotcom

MONTREAL - The Boston Bruins are searching for answers to why they keep losing to the Montreal Canadiens.

The Habs' 4-1 victory in the opening game of the NHL Eastern Conference quarter-final gave them nine victories this season over Boston and 12 in a row dating to last season.

Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is on Saturday night.

"It's pretty obvious what's happened here - our team for some reason does not play their best games against the Montreal Canadiens," Bruins coach Claude Julien said Friday. "I think if we're all honest, and I've watched the Canadiens play a lot this year, besides their games against us - and they seem to play their best games against us - that's the scenario that you have right now.

"It's not a matter of getting madder or more intense, or getting mad and doing something. When we did that, we took a lot of bad penalties that made it worse. It's finding that middle ground."

The Bruins used their tight-checking game to build a solid 41-22-11 record against the rest of the NHL this season, but were 0-7-1 against Montreal.

The playoffs were supposed to be a new season with all slates wiped clean, but with the 21,273-strong Bell Centre crowd at full roar, Sergei Kostitsyn scored only 34 seconds into Game 1 and his brother Andrei got another at the 2:02 mark to set Montreal off on another win.

Now it's starting to look like the Canadiens holds an eerie spell on Boston, against whom they hold a 23-7 all-time record in playoff series.

But Julien said there is no mystery.

"We didn't play a very good hockey game and we need to play better - it's as simple as that," he said.

Even Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said winning some many in a row against Boston is "unimaginable, but we did good things against them this year."

The strangeness extends to goaltender Tim Thomas, who had a solid 28-19-6 record this season with a 2.44 goals-against average and a strong .921 save percentage. The flopping goalie from Davison, Mich., is a big reason the Bruins were able to grab the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference.

Against Montreal he was 0-4-1 with a 4.21 average and a .877 save percentage. And now the late-blooming 33-year-old is 0-1 with four goals against after his first career playoff game.

"Montreal has just executed really well against me," Thomas said. "They've made some pretty darn good plays."

Julien launched into a spirited defence of Thomas this week when his troubles against Montreal were mentioned, saying it is the team in front of him that hasn't performed well.

And Thomas is doing his best not to let it get inside his head.

"This is the playoffs," he said. "I don't feel we're really focused on that long losing record.

"We're focused on the series. That's honestly how I feel and how the team's feeling. Except when you guys (reporters) bring it up, I forget all about it. I'm good at forgetting stuff."

Thomas was impressed with the deafening noise that engulfed the Bell Centre from Montreal fans who seem to be caught up in Stanley Cup fever after their team finished first in the East.

On the opening goal, he tried to call out to defenceman Aaron Ward, but was drowned out. A Patrice Brisebois shot hit Ward's skate and Kostitsyn slammed in the rebound.

"It was actually great to be a part of, even if you're on the opposing team," Thomas said. "It was a lot of fun at the beginning, until we got scored on.

"It's the NHL playoffs. This is what you play for. We were ready for it. We planned on withstanding the barrage. But it didn't work out the way we planned."

Now the notion has arisen that the Bruins may have a psychological block about playing Montreal, but Canadiens forward Christopher Higgins isn't buying that.

"If I was playing for them, I'd be pretty angry about the way things have gone against us," he said. "Now they have a chance to adapt to us and try to exploit whatever weaknesses they think we have.

"I think the next game will be a lot tougher than the first one."

Defenceman Dennis Wideman, who led the Bruins with 25:53 of ice time in Game 1, didn't skate on Friday, but Julien said he will play.

"He needed to take a day off to be ready," the coach said.

Andrew Alberts, who sat out the opener, is available to step in if Julien makes any changes to his defence.

Patrice Bergeron, out since Oct. 27 with a concussion, skated but will not play.

Canadiens captain Saku Koivu (fractured foot) and defenceman Francis Bouillon (ankle) will not play for a second game in a row. Carbonneau said Bouillon has been told to stay off skates for a few days to be sure the ankle is fully healed.

The Canadiens held a fast-paced practice using the same lines as in Game One.

"The way we started the first game is how we want to start (on Saturday)," added Carbonneau.

The Bruins look to be planning line changes, with centre Marc Savard moving back to the top line with Milan Lucic and Glen Murray after spending the opener with Phil Kessel and Peter Schaefer. Savard, the team scoring leader who missed the final seven regular season games with a back injury, will likely see more ice time than the 15:36 he played on Thursday.

With the Bell Centre busy with a concert, both teams practised at the Denis Savard Arena, a 15-minute bus ride away.

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