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Bruins put lessons into practice in 1st-round sweep

by Shawn P. Roarke

"At 3-0, you say, 'hey, we have control of this and they have to beat us four-straight.' It would have been easy to come in here tonight and just kind of play OK. But our guys did a great job, to not only win the game, but to play it right because that is what it is going to take to go far."
-- Claude Julien

What a difference a year has made for the Boston Bruins.

Almost exactly one year ago, the Bruins were a beaten and dejected team, having lost a Game 7 to the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre. Thursday night, after a 4-1 victory in Game 4 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series against these same Canadiens, the Bruins have emerged as a legitimate threat to go very deep in the 2009 playoffs.

For coach Claude Julien, the genesis of Wednesday's series triumph -- the first for Boston since 1999 -- can be found in the long and painful skate from the handshake line to the visitors' dressing room.

In that Game 7 -- a 5-1 loss after Boston had rallied from a three-games-to-one deficit -- Boston was the inexperienced and injury-ravaged team playing the East's top seed. This time, the roles were distinctly reversed. Montreal was hobbled by a series of injuries to key players and were skating several inexperienced players, especially in the series' last two games.

And Boston showed no mercy, outscoring the home team 8-3 in the two games at the Bell Centre to author a terrible ending to Montreal's once-promising Centennial Season.

Julien says it is the ease with which Boston handled the task of putting away the desperate Canadiens that has him confident heading into the second round, against an opponent to be determined.

"It's not easy to sweep a series," Julien says, despite becoming the second team, joining Vancouver, to do it already this postseason. "We know that was a team that was pretty banged up, but the way they came out in the first period, they weren't going to roll over and die. They were going to give us everything they had, but fortunately, because of injuries, our depth kind of took over and we controlled our own destiny.

At one point in the first period, Montréal held a 14-5 advantage in shots and a 1-0 lead on the scoreboard. But once Canadien killer Michael Ryder -- four goals in this series -- scored to tie the game with 2:33 left in the period, the fight went out of the home team. Montreal managed just 11 shots in the final two periods.

But when Andrei Kostitsyn scored in the game's first minute, a Game 5 looked like a distinct possibility, something even Julien admitted because of the comfort level that goes with having such a commanding lead in the series.

"At 3-0, you say, 'hey, we have control of this and they have to beat us four-straight.'" Julien said. "It would have been easy to come in here tonight and just kind of play OK. But our guys did a great job, to not only win the game, but to play it right because that is what it is going to take to go far."

And, those lessons were all learned during last year's playoff run. The Bruins learned from how Montreal let them off the hook when the series got to 3-1. And, they noticed that Montreal lost in the next round, still smarting from the extra games Boston forced it to play.

"That was one of the big things, trying to get it done tonight," center Marc Savard said. "We knew it could have been tough, they could have healed more of their injuries up in those couple of days off and one of our big goals was to end it tonight."

He says that his team showed its mental toughness in both Games 3 and 4 when they weathered intense periods from the home team, which was spurred on by a rabid Bell Centre crowd.

"We didn't plan it like that, but they came out hard and we weathered the storm," Savard said.

But don't get the wrong idea. Just because the Bruins dominated the final two periods of each game here -- out-scoring the hosts 8-1, and out-shooting them, 46-26 -- nothing about this sweep came without a fight. The fact that Boston made it look easy at times shows the talent and depth this team used to become the East's top seed.

"By no way was it easy," Savard said. "They played us hard, they finished all their checks. I think the biggest thing is we stayed disciplined the whole series. That was the biggest thing -- discipline. We didn't even complain to the refs. We just went out and played hockey."

A brand of hockey that the Bruins hope will carry them deep into the spring, reviving even more a fan base that has become used to late-season disappointment. Boston has not been to the second round in a decade and has not won a second-round matchup since beating the Canadiens in the second round of the 1992 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I like the way how even after the game that we realized we have a lot more to do," Julien said. "This is just a small part of the puzzle and it is only going to get tougher. But, (I like) the way the guys handled themselves, the focus that they kept."
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