P minus two days: read all about it

Not that you’re counting, but it’s just two days before the Canadiens and Bruins face off in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference best-of-seven quarterfinal.

Here’s a roundup of some of today’s coverage. We’ll check in after this morning’s Canadiens practice with more news as it happens, and tune in here later today for a playoff edition PuckCast with Boone, Hickey, Stubbs and Mio.

• Dave Stubbs: Says Bob Gainey – We’re here to win the Stanley Cup
• Pat Hickey: Stretch run shows Price is ready
• Hickey: Matchup at a glance
• Hickey: Habs’ walking wounded on the mend
• Kevin Paul Dupont, Boston Globe: View from Boston (see below)
Fluto Shinzawa, Boston Globe: Bergeron cleared for contact
• Shinzawa: Injured Marc Savard vows to return
• Steve Conroy, Boston Herald: Bruins coach Claude Julien faces long odds again

(Dupont will share his thoughts with Gazette and Inside/Out readers throughout the first round)

Bruins bear plenty of CH baggage

KEVIN PAUL DUPONT
Boston Globe hockey writer

BOSTON – The Bruins are going to the playoffs, which is something we used to say around here every October, before the first puck was dropped on a new NHL season.

Oh, the things we once took for granted. Like 99-cents-a-gallon gasoline, the joy of a daylong read of the Sunday paper (first dibs on the comics!), that syrupy sweet last drop from a bottle of Coke.

Time marches on, and for the better part of 15 years, it has trampled all over the Bruins, and the dreams of their fans. But here they are, poised anew for a Cup run, and with their decadeslong nemesis in Montreal no doubt just delirious to see them back. No doubt the team printer for Les Glorieux worked into the wee hours this morn, banging out “Bonjour, Bruins!” posters to paste to every lamppost in town.

The Canadiens, in case you hadn’t heard, thumped the Bruins to the tune of 8-0 during the regular season, and it took the Bruins until the seventh game of the series just to stop slipping on every banana peel the Habs dropped in their lanes. The series had all the feel of yesteryear, back in the days when an irate Harry Sinden would jump from his seat in the Forum press box, tug on his tie, and exclaim: “Death … taxes … and first penalty in the Forum.”

The setting is the much bigger and fancier Bell Centre, but the Habs once more will be billed near-prohibitive favourites.

“It’s a great challenge for us,” said veteran centre Glen Metropolit, among the Bruins’ sweetest finds during this minirenaissance of a season. “We know we can compete with them, but we have to stick to our game plan, get the puck in deep … and, hey, it’s the playoffs, you have to go through the top teams, or the teams that are higher in the standings.”

For as hard as they worked to make it to the playoffs, the Bruins had little time to savour the moment. They clinched on Friday night, in game No. 81 of the season, with their 2-1 win at Ottawa. Less than 24 hours later, they were back on Causeway St., and it was clear from the first puck drop that they were emotionally spent, not just from the win over the Senators, but from a six-month run that too often had their best players knocked out of the lineup.

“I’m going to be honest with you,” coach Claude Julien said soon after the 3-0 season-ending loss to the Sabres. “There are teams out of the playoffs right now that, on paper, people will say are a lot better than the Boston Bruins. Well, they weren’t better than the Boston Bruins when it came down to team play.”

Julien, though he deflects credit to his players for the team play, helped to reassemble a shattered club with a very simple, accountable, defence-oriented game plan. Why are the Bruins in the playoffs? First and foremost because of that solid game plan, which the players followed most nights to a T (not counting the half-dozen games they flew off to parts unknown when facing the Habs).

And backing that game, most nights, was Tim Thomas, too often dismissed throughout the league as some Eurotrained misfit, or mongrel, who only remained on the job because Manny Fernandez, hired over the summer as the would-be No. 1, literally buckled at the knees and required surgery in December. Truth is, if not for Thomas, no matter how thorough the game plan, the Bruins would have been DNQ fodder by the start of March.

Thomas, both in Montreal and in much of the North America media, will be fashioned as some glorified backup plucked from the dunk tank of a Helsinki country fair. Never mind that he posted a .921 save percentage this season, fourth best in the league.

Thomas doesn’t have the pedigree, and with his 34th birthday a week away, he’s not about to have one written into his birth certificate. However, he does stop the puck, more often and better than most people believe. Secret weapon, no, but not a second-class citizen, either.

What the Bruins will have most to fear is not what is in their net, but what is in their hands. They were outscored 9-5 in their final four games of the season.

They will go as far as systematic defence and goaltending carry them.

Defence got them out of the mess that was 2006-07. Defence got them upright and taking fluids. Defence and goaltending will determine what is left of their season from here.


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