Claude Julien knows that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck, and the hockey equivalent is that the Montreal Canadiens clearly have the upper hand on the Boston Bruins.
The Bruins coach is faced with the task of stopping a 12-game losing streak against Montreal in Game 2 of their conference quarterfinal Saturday night. Otherwise, Boston will find itself in a 0-2 hole when it returns home for Game 3 on Sunday night.
"Our team for some reason does not play their best games against the Montreal Canadiens," Julien said Friday. "I think if we’re all honest here, and I’ve watched the Montreal Canadiens play a lot this year besides the games against us and they seem to play their best games against us. That’s the scenario that we have right now."
After claiming just one of a possible 16 points while the Canadiens swept the eight-game regular-season series between the longtime rivals, the Bruins looked on as Montreal’s Kostitsyn brothers, Andre and Sergei, scored goals 1:28 apart in the opening minutes of the Canadiens’ 4-1 series-opening win Thursday night.
Julien suggested that his players were "nervous" at the outset of the game and expressed his disappointment in defensive breakdowns that led to Montreal scoring its goals from the slot.
Marc Savard returned to Boston’s lineup in the game, one of the few bright spots on an otherwise dismal night for the Bruins.
"They’re a great hockey team and we’ve got to be at our best to beat them and stay with our system," Savard said. "We got away from our system last night. That’s the only way we’re going to have a chance to beat these guys is playing our system and we’ve got to do that."
Tom Kostopoulos, Montreal’s fourth-line right wing, had a goal and an assist in his playoff debut. Just as significantly, he accounted for six of the Canadiens’ checks as the Eastern Conference No. 1 seed outhit Boston 37-28 overall.
"It was nice to contribute offensively but we know where our game plan is to really play strong defensively and then go from there," Kostopoulos said. "We want to play physically, we want to create some chances by hitting and keep the puck in their end."
Kostopoulos, one of six Canadiens players who made his first playoff appearance Thursday, assisted on Bryan Smolinski’s goal early in the second that put Montreal up 3-1. He scored in the third to seal the win.
Combined with energy forward Steve Begin, the Canadiens’ checking line made huge contributions in staking Montreal to a 1-0 series lead.
"T.K. got put together and he and I got some chemistry going along with a lot of other players and we just stuck with that," Smolinski said. "Getting (Begin) back in the lineup gave us a solid third and fourth line and it’s worked out and obviously in the playoffs you want to step it up a notch."
The notion that the Canadiens are a small team that can be pushed around and intimidated is one that puzzles left wing Chris Higgins.
"It continues to be a knock on our team that we’re soft but I don’t really see where that’s coming from," Higgins said. "To be honest, if you watch our games we have guys that finish their hits and play tough."
Bruins goalie Tim Thomas knows that his teammates are well aware of Montreal’s abilities. The difference for Game 2 is that they have to match the Canadiens’ intensity on the ice with an eye on stopping a woeful streak, and more importantly, squaring the series with an important road win to return home with a clean slate.
"They don’t have to necessarily have to play better than they’ve ever played in their life but they have to bring their ‘A’ game, from the goalie on out," Thomas said.