By Bryan Mongeau-Eastmond, staff writer
BOSTON (RPRN) 04/17/09 – Round one in their best-of-seven series goes to the Boston Bruins as they were ahead on the judges score card at the sound of the bell. But donâ€™t tell the Montreal Canadiens that the Bruins are the overwhelming favorites to win their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. They donâ€™t believe it – not for a second.
This is the mentality surrounding the Habs, despite losing 4-2 on Thursday night in the opener at TD Banknorth Garden. Make no mistake: The Habs came to play and to the surprise of many pundits, took the fight to Boston.
Montreal, which stumbled into the playoffs dropping its final four games, fell behind early but were able to claw their way back on goals by Chris Higgins and Alex Kovalev.
As expected, both teams endured physical punishment and the battle has just begun.
â€œI thought there were a lot of body checks tonight, and our team looked like they got stronger or enjoyed it more as the game went along,â€ said Canadiens coach Bob Gainey. â€œFor a stretch of minutes, maybe late in the second and early in the third, I thought we were able to use physical contact to our advantage.â€
Boston’s leading goal scorer during the regular season, Phil Kessel, opened the scoring for the Bruins after a teammate freed the puck up with a poke check from Habsâ€™ goalie Carey Price.
The second-year goaltender was furious with the call, but his argument that he’d had control of the puck did little to persuade the refereeâ€™s decision.
The Bruins added to their lead 90 seconds later with a backhander by Krejci.
The underdogs took Beantownâ€™s best shot and heading into the third period the score was knotted up and the shots on net were pretty even. But with Josh Gorges in the penalty box, 6 foot 9 defensemen Zdeno Chara came up big-literally, breaking the tie with 8:45 remaining in the third period. He fired a laser just inside the blue line that found its way past a helpless Price.
Kessel’s empty-netter with 13.4 seconds remaining sealed the deal, giving the Bruins a 1-0 series lead entering Game 2 to be played on Saturday night.
â€œI think I’d be happy if it turns into a long series,â€ Gainey said before the game. He might just get his wish as his hockey club started to come together as a team and play some decent hockey against a team that dominated the regular season series.
This year, the tables have turned. The Bruins now occupy first place in the East division, while the Habs, last year’s top team, fell to the eighth seed. Still, the Canadiens remain confident that they can get the better of their arc rivals once again.
While history might very well be in Montrealâ€™s favor, having won 24 series victories in 31 previous Stanley Cup playoff meetings, the present isnâ€™t so bright. Boston has won five of six regular-season games between the teams this season.
Other playoff scores.
Detroit 4, Columbus 1
Chicago 3, Clagary2
Anaheim 2, San Jose 0
(Photo of Habs’ Guillaume Latendresse being tackled by Milan Luci)
courtesy of the National Hockey League
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