Bruins look back, ahead
UNIONDALE, N.Y. - Last night, for the final time in the regular season, the Bruins skated off the ice, dropped off their sticks to be packed, and trudged into the dressing room.
"Good season boys," Marc Savard said to his teammates. "Long season. But we made it."
Several minutes after the finale, coach Claude Julien addressed his players. From behind the closed doors, a loud cheer and applause could be heard in the adjacent hallway at Nassau Coliseum.
"I congratulated those guys for a really good regular season," said Julien, whose team goes into the books with a 53-19-4-6 record, second in the league only to San Jose. "I think they deserve it. It's something that's one step toward the ultimate goal. Right now, for me, it doesn't mean much anymore. I'm just looking forward to the next challenge, which is the one everyone looks forward to. We've got an opportunity that half the league doesn't have. We've got to understand that we're in a really good position here. Now it's up to us."
Game No. 82 was, as Julien put it, a meaningless game. The Bruins were locked into first place, with a first-round clash with Montreal on the docket. The Islanders had wrapped up their stranglehold on the NHL's worst record. But for a match that didn't affect the standings for either club, a season-capping 6-2 victory before 14,311 fans brought a sense of pleasure to the 2008-09 Bruins.
"Maybe for a day," said a smiling Dennis Wideman when asked if the team would reflect on a starry ride. "We had a great regular season. I think it's something we can be proud of. Obviously we can only be proud of it for a little bit. But if we don't have the playoffs that we want, you forget about the regular season pretty fast. We have to make sure we're focused and ready for the playoffs."
Last night, Phil Kessel led the attack with his first hat trick of the season and second of his career. Savard scored a goal and had two assists. Yet again, the Bruins chased a starting netminder, as Yann Danis was replaced by Joey MacDonald at 5:27 of the second period. Tim Thomas, who'll be the go-to goalie against the Canadiens, stopped 32 of 34 shots. The 53 wins are the third-highest total in franchise history (57 in 1970-71, 54 in 1971-72).
All the buzz, however, is regarding those you-know-whos from north of the border.
"It's going to be a hard-fought series," said Milan Lucic, perpetually at the center of the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry. "We've just got to make sure that we bring our A game every game we play them."
This time, it's a near-flip of last year's first round. The Bruins didn't win any of the eight 2007-08 regular-season clashes against the Canadiens. They were the eighth seed that finally qualified for the last spot in the Eastern Conference in the second-to-last game of '07-08. They were the heavy underdogs against the No. 1 Canadiens.
"You saw what we could do being the underdog," Julien said. "There's no secret there. I don't think I'm playing it up at all. We're the team that has the pressure to win. They're the underdog. It's a reverse from last year. We're going to have our hands full. They're going to have absolutely nothing to lose. We've got a lot to gain. We've got to make sure that we don't disappoint."
This time around, the Bruins enter the playoffs as the top club in the East, having bested second-place Washington by eight points. The Bruins went 5-0-1 against the Habs in the regular season. The Canadiens didn't qualify for their postseason berth until Game No. 80 - against the Bruins, naturally - when they sent the game into overtime and gained the point they needed. The Bruins are the favorites in the 1-8 matchup, which kicks off Thursday night at TD Banknorth Garden.
As the Bruins proved last year by taking the Canadiens to seven games, history means nothing.
"It's all 100 percent new," Wideman said. "They killed us all year last year. Then we played them hard and played them tight in the playoffs. Every game is going to be tight. It's going to be a hard-fought series. Just like last year."
The Bruins will enjoy a day off today. They will get back to work tomorrow at Ristuccia Arena. As they know, there is a lot of work left to be done.