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On Hockey

Message beaten into ground

By Kevin Paul Dupont
April 20, 2009
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WILMINGTON - Off to Montreal with a 2-0 playoff series lead, their egos in check, their goalie hot, their offense confident, and well, you know, hey, que sera, sera.

Strange territory for the Bruins, but by no means uncharted.

We need only roll the Black-and-Gold memory machine back to the spring of 2004 to remember the last time the Bruins bolted to a 2-0 first-round lead over the Habs. They scored only nine times over the next five games and weren't seen again until October 2006 (although that protracted interlude was far more the doing of the Players Association than the L'equipe CH).

In part, the spring of 2004 was why an invisible yellow caution flag was tacked to the tail of the club's charter flight out of Hanscom Field early yesterday afternoon.

"Stay grounded, and focus on the next game," coach Claude Julien said after allowing his charges a day of rest and relaxation following Saturday night's 5-1 rubout of Les Glorieux. "We understand the consequences, how quickly things can change. It's a humbling game. We are not going [to Montreal] thinking that things are under control."

Sure, standard coachspeak. If the Bruins can extend their merry run into June, you can bet Julien would stay on that "grounded" message if his club carried a 3-0 series advantage into Game 4 against the Wings for a chance to win what would be Boston's first Stanley Cup since 1972. That big silvery chalice wrapped in his arms, he probably would talk about the need for offseason discipline and arriving at September's training camp ready to show a good "compete level" even while team captain Zdeno Chara covered his head with Dom Perignon (not a Canadiens' fourth liner, by the way).

Thus far, the '09 Boston-Montreal series has been in stark contrast to the angst level the Hub's hockey fans have learned to expect (maybe even subconsciously lust for?) when the Bruins face the Habs in the playoffs. The Bruins entered this series as the favorite (rare) and have had little trouble (ever rarer) squeezing the tourniquet on their age-old rivals. Outside of a sloppy and unfocused second period in Game 1, a cerebral dissolve that began once they took a 2-0 lead in the first period, they've had their way with the Canadiens.

Their way with the Canadiens. Longtime Bruins fans find such a thought nearly impossible to process, never mind attempt to say aloud, or even so much as whisper to a friend today at lunch (to avoid risk of public humiliation, consider hand signals and clever manipulation of eyebrows).

I best will remember Boston's futility in these matchups as it was encapsulated years ago in the deep, resonant tones of Bob Wilson, the club's legendary radio play-by-play man.

In April 1989, the Bruins easily dismissed the Sabres, 4-1, in Round 1, and then dropped a pair of 3-2 decisions to the Habs at the Montreal Forum. After splitting a pair of one-goal games on Causeway Street, the clubs arrived back in the Forum - where they finally shook a 45-year drought the year before - with the locals in command of a 3-1 series lead.

In those days, Boston's radio team consisted of Wilson and his long-time airwaves sidekick John Bucyk. No way would the Bruins escape elimination. The likes of Mats Naslund, Bobby Smith, Stephane Richer, and Claude Lemieux were just too much, as Wilson pointed out in great detail for his listeners during his pregame setup from his perch in the press box. The tone of resignation was profound, if not painful, as Wilson so richly pronounced the name of each Montreal player, adding a special flourish to the French surnames that dotted the lineup.

Meanwhile, noted Wilson, the Bruins couldn't muster much offense beyond whatever the likes of Craig Janney and Cam Neely delivered. No second line. Same old story. No hope. It was over. Done. Everyone knew the drill.

"And who do the Bruins counter with, but Lyndon Byers," boomed Wilson, as he wrapped up what felt more like a pregame sermon than setup. "LYNDON BYERS! . . . who couldn't put the puck in the ocean if he was standing at the end . . . of . . . the . . . dock."

Now granted, maybe it was a little harsh for Wilson to put it all on LB's dimpled chin. Heck, Andy Brickley, today the club's outstanding color man in the NESN booth, went a meager 0-2 -2 in his 10 playoff games sportin' the Spoked-B that spring. Ditto for Bruce Shoebottom, Greg Hawgood, Glen Wesley, and Keith Crowder. Five guys, 10 games apiece, each and every one of them 0-2 -2. Greg Johnston, another potential key offensive component, added but a single point (one goal) in 10 games.

By no means was Byers there alone at the end of the dock, staring at the deep blue sea. But the image, like Wilson's voice, is everlasting.

Twenty years later, it is the Canadiens who look as if they are without an answer. They not only lack goal-scoring, but they have struggled for discipline (see: Alex Kovalev's hook in the offensive zone late in the second period Saturday night that led to Michael Ryder's power-play goal).

Of greatest concern, however, is Montreal's own net, where Carey Price again has been quite pedestrian.

Drafted No. 5 overall in 2005, Price came to Montreal as 20-year-old in September 2007, touted as the next Patrick Roy (just add pads, step back, adjust arena to desired room temperature, allow to grow).

He's young. Maybe he will grow into the job. But this is the second straight April that he has had his, shall we say, moments against the Bruins. General manager/coach Bob Gainey saw enough of those moments Saturday night to yank the kid after 40 minutes, and it will be no surprise if backup Jaroslav Halak gets the start in tonight in Montreal.

Shortcomings. Maybes. How-comes? Wouldas, couldas, and shouldas. Right now, all of that is the domain the Canadiens. Without a playoff series win since 1999, it's the Bruins who are living the que sera, sera life.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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