2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs Blog - Conference Quarter-finals
BOSTON – If Georges Laraque was trying to deflect attention from his Montreal Canadiens teammates in preparation for Thursday night's Game 1 of their first-round series against the Boston Bruins, it's safe to say he accomplished his mission.
The Habs enforcer was surrounded by a throng of reporters four rows deep Thursday morning who wanted to discuss comments he made to a Montreal radio station that Bruins tough guy Shawn Thornton was not in his league and that Thornton was trembling in the dressing room prior to an early-season match-up between the teams because he knew he would have to fight Laraque.
The Bruins laughed off the comments and didn't particularly want to discuss it, but Laraque was more than willing, distracting the media horde long enough to allow his teammates to slip out of the dressing room unnoticed.
"If (Thornton) wants to take it personally, then do it," Laraque said. "Someone asked me a question about it and I answered."
Of course, the likelihood of anyone fighting in Game 1 Thursday night is very minimal, and even Laraque can admit that his focus will not be looking for trouble, but rather forcing the Bruins to pay a physical toll that falls within the rules.
Canadiens head coach/GM Bob Gainey, however, didn't discount the possibility that Laraque's number one skill will come into play in Game 1.
"Georges Laraque is an experienced player," Gainey said. "We'd like him to be a positive player in a lot of ways. Part of his toolbox is he's a big, strong, physical player who can fight. So I suspect he'll bring his full toolbox tonight."
Canadiens defenceman Andrei Markov is not in Boston with his Canadiens teammates, remaining in Montreal to nurse his suspected knee injury, but Gainey would only say that he won't be available for Game 1 and wouldn't go any further.
That has to be considered yet another major advantage for the Bruins to exploit, adding to their domination of the season series between the two clubs this season, winning five of the six games.
The roles of the Bruins and Canadiens are a mirror image of what they were in the first round last season, when it was Montreal that dominated the season series with eight victories and no losses and also finished first in the conference.
Bruins defenceman Dennis Wideman tried not to place too much importance on the change, but admitted it does have an effect on the psychological side of things.
"The only thing that changes is that we have an extra game at home," he said. "But last year we felt like we had nothing to lose and just had fun, so I guess the pressure is on us to win, just like it was on Montreal last year. There's definitely more pressure when you're expected to win."
A major reason why the Bruins have that level of expectation is the emergence this year of centre David Krejci and the chemistry he's developed with former Canadiens winger Michael Ryder.
Krejci first showed his potential in last year's playoffs, playing a very strong series against Montreal and notching five points in seven games.
"That gave me more confidence," said Krejci, who busted out this season with a 73-point campaign. "I learned that you have to play the same way during the playoffs as you did in the regular season. I just played the same way and coach kept giving me ice time. That just carried into this season."
For Ryder, obviously, the series represents something completely different. He was bounced in and out of the lineup in last year's playoffs by former Habs coach Guy Carbonneau, while current coach Bob Gainey decided not to offer him a free agent contract last off-season and let him sign with the Bruins for three years and $12 million.
"It is a bit (different), but during the regular season I kind of got used to it," said Ryder, who bounced back from a career-worst 14-goal season to notch 27 with Boston this season. "I think it's important for me to just play and do everything I can to help the team win and not think of what happened last year."
Game 1 will be a vital test for the Bruins, and particularly goalie Tim Thomas, who admitted during last year's playoffs that he got caught up in the playoff atmosphere at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Thomas insisted that didn't play a factor in Montreal scoring twice in the first two minutes of Game 1 last year, but he says he is better prepared to maintain his focus this time around.
"I'm drawing on my experience from last year," he said. "Coming into the first game last year, I was still able to play, but I was caught off guard a bit by all the excitement. This time, I'm prepared to be unprepared for a little while."
Projected lines for Game 1:
P.J. Axelsson - Marc Savard - Phil Kessel
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Michael Ryder
Mark Recchi - Patrice Bergeron - Chuck Kobasew
Blake Wheeler - Stephane Yelle - Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara - Aaron Ward
Matt Hunwick - Dennis Wideman
Mark Stuart - Shane Hnidy
Goalie: Tim Thomas
Likely scratches - Byron Bitz, Steve Montador
Alex Tanguay - Saku Koivu - Alex Kovalev
Andrei Kostitsyn - Tomas Plekanec - Matt D'Agostini
Guillaume Latendresse - Maxim Lapierre - Tom Kostopoulos
Christopher Higgins - Glen Metropolit - Georges Laraque
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Komisarek
Mathieu Dandenault - Josh Gorges
Mathieu Schneider - Patrice Brisebois
Goalie: Carey Price
Likely scratches - Sergei Kostitsyn, Ryan O'Byrne, Gregory Stewart
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