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Laraque given chance to make a statement

by Shawn P. Roarke
With all the focus on Georges Laraque before the game, it was important that he delivered once the puck dropped to start Game 1.

Fortunately for Laraque, Montreal coach Bob Gainey gave him every opportunity to be a difference-maker, surprising almost everyone by giving the rugged forward first-line minutes for most of Montreal's 4-2 loss to Boston at the TD Banknorth Center that opened the best-of-7 series.

Laraque, who put himself into the spotlight with inflammatory comments about the Bruins and their toughness in the run-up to Game 1 -- responded by playing a season-high 13 minutes and 12 seconds, the first time he has topped the 12-minute mark in 34 appearances this season. Laraque had only gotten into double digits in minutes in five other games this season.

Yet, Laraque said that he wasn't surprised that he saw so much time on the left side of center Saku Koivu and right wing Alex Kovalev, a spot that is usually occupied by sniper Alex Tanguay. In fact, the trio of Kovalev, Koivu and Tanguay was among the hottest in hockey in the final month of the season.

"I knew in a way because we knew that they were going to match Chara against our top guys and it was just a way to get our top guys room -- get a big body to try to neutralize (Chara) and so it's not too physical for (my linemates)," Laraque told "We had our chances and I thought it went well, considering that I never played with them. It's just keeping it simple for me -- trying to give them room and go to the net and stuff."

Laraque, who is 6-foot-3, 253 pounds, also believes that his turn as a first-line winger is not a one-off affair. He says that he can wear out the 6-9, 255-pound Chara -- Boston's best defenseman and captain -- if he continues to occupy the role he was given in Thursday night's contest.

"If I can neutralize Chara, because he plays a lot of minutes and stuff, someday it will make it easier for us," Laraque said, "because he's a big guy and tough to contain and because I am a big guy, too -- especially in the offensive zone -- it gives more room for Saku and Kovy to do there stuff."

While it is unclear if Gainey will stick with the Laraque experiment in Saturday night's Game 2 here, he did say he liked some of what he saw.

"I thought Georges played well," Gainey said. "He had the puck and he didn't make errors with the puck and he had a couple of shots at the net. I think he provided the Bruins with a challenge just moving his size around in the crease area, where he can establish himself.

"If it would pay off with some offensive results, his presence there would be a real bonus for our team."

But for all the talk about Laraque before the game, and all the focus on the big Canadiens forward during it, Boston coach Claude Julien remained perplexed by the hubbub, insisting that he had no interest in getting away from the Chara-Laraque matchup, something he could have done with the last personnel change afforded to the home coach.

"Honestly, this is a decision that the other coach makes," he said. "Without making a big, big statement here, there's more to this game than Georges, hopefully."

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