NHL

Habs ready for playoff tussle with Bruins

When Montreal and Boston kick off their Eastern Conference playoff series on Thursday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET), the top-ranked Bruins will have the psychological advantage over the eighth-seeded Canadiens.

My, how times change.

Just a year ago, it was the Eastern Conference champion Montreal Canadiens hosting the eighth-seeded Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But when Montreal and Boston kick off their Eastern Conference playoff series on Thursday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET), it'll be the top-ranked Bruins who will have the psychological advantage over the eighth-seeded Canadiens.

The Bruins enter the playoffs riding a tidal wave of momentum after posting a 53-19-10 record and tallying 116 points, the second-highest total among the NHL's 30 teams.

What's more, Boston dominated its regular-season series against the Canadiens, winning five of six games and outscoring the Habs 23-13.

Montreal, on the other hand, struggled down the stretch and only clinched a playoff berth in the final week of the regular season.

Talk amongst Montreal fans is that the playoffs offers the players a chance to put a difficult regular season behind them, and redeem themselves with a strong run in the post-season.

But don't try telling that to Canadiens winger Christopher Higgins.

"I don't know if we need to redeem anything, to be honest," Higgins said. "We didn't finish where we wanted to finish, but we made the playoffs and that was our goal at the beginning of the season.

"Everybody expects everything in this city. I don't really care what people expect."

Markov likely out for 1st round

If the Habs are to win the series, they'll likely have to do it without their best defenceman, as Andrei Markov is expected to miss the entire first round of the playoffs with a knee injury.

Markov was spotted working out in the gym at the Canadiens' practice facility in suburban Brossard, but was not on the ice Wednesday before practice with fellow injured defenceman Francis Bouillon, who skated hard for about 40 minutes to further test his groin and abdominal injuries.

With those two still out, Patrice Brisebois was inserted into the lineup alongside Mathieu Schneider on the third defensive pairing at Wednesday's practice.

Rookie Yannick Weber had been practising with Schneider all week, but head coach Bob Gainey has decided to go with Brisebois for Game 1.

"This is what's fun, the playoffs," Brisebois said. "Everyone wants to play but there aren't enough spots. I'm glad Bob's placed his confidence in me and I'm going to do everything I can to help the team win."

Brisebois will man the point opposite Schneider on the Canadiens' top power-play unit, taking the place of the injured Markov.

Also expected to see action for the Habs is tough guy Georges Laraque, who skated on the fourth line with Higgins and Glen Metropolit during Wednesday's practice.

Laraque has had a difficult season, missing significant time with a groin injury and a herniated disk in his back that he feared could cost him his career.

But Laraque said he was confident he would be playing in the playoffs, even though he wasn't in the lineup for a vital game in Boston on April 9 where the Bruins roughed up the Habs in a 5-4 overtime win that allowed Montreal to clinch a playoff berth.

"I always knew I was going to play in the playoffs," Laraque said. "Before that game in Boston, Bob and I talked so I knew I wasn't going to play, but it was because we had a plan. We're not going to talk about what that plan is, but I knew he would call on me in the playoffs."