Bruins are happy to bump into the Flyers
Surprising matchup should be physical
WILMINGTON — Like all of his teammates, Milan Lucic watched Wednesday’s Game 7 between Washington and Montreal, anxious about the outcome, because it would determine the Bruins’ second-round opponent. And like all of his teammates, Lucic could hardly believe that the Canadiens — down and out after falling behind in the series, three games to one — clawed out a 2-1 victory to set up a Bruins-Flyers showdown.
“To be honest, I actually couldn’t believe it,’’ Lucic said. “I thought Washington was going to have their way with Montreal to start the series.
“No disrespect to Montreal at all. You’ve got to give them all the credit in the world. They fought hard. They battled hard. They deserve to be going to the second round, the way they played to end off that series.’’
Thanks to the Canadiens, the Bruins enter Round 2 with home-ice advantage. They don’t have to stare down Pittsburgh ring-winners in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Marc-Andre Fleury and start the second round away from TD Garden. They’ll go up against a Philadelphia club hammered by injuries to Jeff Carter (foot), Simon Gagne (foot), and Ian Laperriere (concussion).
After besting Buffalo’s Ryan Miller, considered the ace goalie of the NHL, they’ll be shooting pucks at Brian Boucher, the Woonsocket, R.I., native who grabbed the starting job only after injuries to Ray Emery and Michael Leighton.
It is the best scenario the Bruins could have hoped for. However, it is a scenario that promises bruising tilts that should have the Bruins reaching for ice packs upon the conclusion of games.
“I don’t think the identity of their team’s changed in the last 40 years,’’ Lucic said. “They always seem to have that Broad Street Bully-type of mentality. They live up to it year in and year out, especially through the playoffs.
“They’re a great team. They have a lot of experience because they were in the third round two years ago. We expect them to come at us hard and come at us often. We’ve got to be prepared for that and do everything we can to push back.’’
It took until the shootout of the regular-season finale for the Flyers to lock down the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. In that shootout against the Rangers, Danny Briere and P.A. Parenteau scored matching goals. But after Claude Giroux beat Henrik Lundqvist, Boucher responded with a season-saving stop on Olli Jokinen.
Since then, Boucher has posted the best statistics of any playoff goalie (4-1, 1.59 goals-against average, .940 save percentage), backstopping the Flyers to a 4-1 series win over New Jersey. Following the first-round boot, Devils coach Jacques Lemaire retired.
“He was wonderful,’’ ex-Flyer Mark Recchi said of Boucher, his Philadelphia teammate for three seasons. “He’s a good goalie. He was great then. He gave us every opportunity to win all the way through.
“He’s shown down the stretch — in the last three or four games at the end of the year, then in the first round — that he’s capable of doing a great job for them. Character guy for sure.’’
Boucher wasn’t the only player to star for Peter Laviolette’s club against New Jersey. Captain Mike Richards, projected to go head-to-head with Olympic teammate Patrice Bergeron in this series, led the Flyers with two goals and six assists while averaging 22:12 of ice time per game. Giroux, David Krejci’s former junior teammate in Gatineau, netted four goals while adding two helpers. Briere had two goals and three assists.
But the identity of the Philadelphia team is its snarl, with no better personification than Chris Pronger. Pronger leads all playoff performers in ice time per game (29:03) and has two goals and three assists. The nasty defenseman will be sure to establish a physical tone for the series with help from Braydon Coburn, also no stranger to rough stuff. Kimmo Timonen and Matt Carle don’t have the brawn of Pronger or Coburn, but both can move the puck crisply and join the rush.
“In the playoffs, you’ve got to be smart,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “You’ve got to be disciplined. You’ve also got to be physical. You have to know when to do it and when to walk away.
“We talked about it in the last series. There’s times when you have an opportunity to go on the power play. Do you seek instant revenge? Or do you take a number and say there’s going to be a time for it?
“That’s what discipline’s all about. It’s not about backing off, taking everything and not giving anything back. It’s about playing smart.
“You can be physical and you can be smart. I think that’s where teams have to be when it comes to playoff success.’’
With Mark Stuart (two fights in the Bruins’ last game against the Flyers, a 5-1 road win March 11) still working his way back from a hand infection and Shawn Thornton projected to be a healthy scratch, Lucic, Zdeno Chara, and Johnny Boychuk will be among the lunchpail group expected to deliver pain on the Flyers. Because of injuries, Lucic missed three of the four games against Philadelphia this year, including the Winter Classic at Fenway Park.
Lucic, making his debut on the No. 2 line alongside Krejci and Miroslav Satan in Monday’s clinching Game 6 against Buffalo, recorded two assists in the win.
“I missed the opportunity of playing such a memorable game in the outdoor Classic there at Fenway,’’ Lucic said. “But you’ve got to find a way to make life go on. It’s something you wish you could have been a part of.
“But since I’ve been here, since the first game against them in my first year with the Bergy hit, there always seem to be pretty heated battles every time we play them.
“For me, those games are the most fun. It suits my type of game, getting in there, them getting in my face, me doing the same to them. Just really looking forward to the challenge up ahead. Can’t wait to see how this series is going to be played out.’’
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.