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Laraque takes the spotlight for Habs

by Shawn P. Roarke
BOSTON -- Twenty-four players on the Montreal Canadiens roster have more points than Georges Laraque. Twenty-two of those players have scored at least once, which gives them the lead on Laraque.

Yet, as the Canadiens invaded Boston to start another chapter in the deep and passionate rivalry between those two Original Six teams, Laraque was the focus of attention everywhere you turned Thursday at TD Banknorth Garden, site of Thursday's Game 1 (7 p.m. ET, CBC, RDS).

And no, nobody was talking about the two points Laraque managed this season in 33 appearances. Instead, every one wanted to talk about Laraque's promise to turn this series on its ear by playing a physical style that will punish the Bruins at every turn.

Oh yeah, and if Shawn Thornton, Milan Lucic or Zdeno Chara -- Boston's primary hit men -- want to do something about it, more power to them.

"This series is going to be physical and I want to do everything that I can to help this team," Laraque said. "I want to set the tone for this series and I can't wait for this series to start."

So, Georges, what about the fact that maybe some of the Bruins took your comments personally?

"I'll be glad if everybody takes it personally and goes after me because I believe I can take it," Laraque said.

A veteran of a dozen NHL campaigns and almost 1,100 minutes in the penalty box, Laraque certainly does know how to handle himself if somebody comes looking for him.

"If they want to look for him, he's easy to find," is how defenseman Josh Gorges put it Thursday morning.

Laraque isn't banking on a fight coming his way, however. He knows fights are as rare this time of year as a Yankee hat in Boston Commons. But he still believes he can change the nature of this series.

"In the playoffs, if you want to hurt a team for the long run, you have to play physical for the whole series," he says.

But it isn't just the physical task that Laraque is up for; it's the mental warfare that is such a big part of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has no trouble wearing the black hat and adopting the role of heel as he walks into the Garden for Game 1 of this best-of-7 series. He'll happily take all the vitriol that the Boston faithful can muster. He has the mental fortitude necessary to be Public Enemy No. 1.

Plus, if everybody is thinking about Laraque, nobody is thinking about the 19 other guys wearing Montreal sweaters. That means Alex Kovalev can go about scoring goals; Carey Price can go about recapturing his mojo; rookie Matt D'Agostini can go about getting his postseason nerves out of the way and coach Bob Gainey can figure out a game plan in relative solitude while Laraque deals with all the sound and fury of a ravenous press corps.

"He knows how to work the system, if that is how you want to put it," Gorges said. "And, he does a great job of it.”

D'Agostini, the rookie, sits just a few stalls down from Laraque in the visitor's dressing room at the Garden and he is grateful for what Laraque is bring to the table in the days and hours leading up to Game 1.

"Georges is huge for us," D'Agostini says. "He gives us that feeling that if they want to take liberties on our top guys, we have Georges out there."

And how about the Bruins? How is the home team taking the ruckus that Laraque is intent about causing through his words?

They insist they have no opinion.

"It doesn't matter," says Aaron Ward, a veteran defenseman who has seen every diversionary tactic in his march to three Stanley Cup titles. "Every player is entitled to say what they want. But all we control is what is in this locker room."

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