- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Bruins will watch closely for the winner of the Washington Capitals-Montreal Canadiens series to find out who they will face in the Eastern Conference semifinals. If eighth-seeded Montreal wins Game 7 Wednesday night in Washington, the sixth-seeded Bruins will host the seventh-seeded Philadelphia Flyers. If the top-seeded Capitals win, Boston will face the fourth-seeded Penguins.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli hasn’t been told anything official from the league, but if the Bruins play the Penguins, the first two games in Pittsburgh will likely be Friday and Sunday. If Boston hosts the Flyers, that schedule is to be determined.
Either way, the Bruins, who dismissed the Sabres in six games in the first round, are confident and ready for any opponent.
During a 34-minute conference call on Tuesday, Chiarelli gave a quick breakdown of each possible opponent.
Boston finished the regular season with a 1-2-1 record against the Penguins.
“Pittsburgh, my guess is because they have the two elite forwards [Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin], I think you’re going to see more of a tactical matchup-type of series,” explained Chiarelli. “It will still be physical because they’ve got some big bodies up front, including [Alexi] Ponikarovsky and [Michael] Rupp. I haven’t talked to Claude [Julien] about it, but my guess is you’ll see a little more tactical series against Pittsburgh.”
Plus, the return of Bruins forward Marc Savard could give Boston extra incentive in a matchup against the Penguins because it was Pittsburgh winger Matt Cooke’s blindside hit on Savard on March 7 that caused a Grade 2 concussion and almost ended his season. Fortunately for the Bruins, Savard has been cleared to play and will return to the lineup for the Bruins’ second-round matchup.
Even though there’s bad blood between the two teams, Chiarelli doesn’t expect it to be a distraction.
“If anything it will motivate us,” he said. “I think our group is pretty focused right now. I know it’ll be talked about in the media and will be one of the major storylines, but I like the focus of our group right now and I don’t think it’ll be too much of a distraction.”
The Flyers, meanwhile, barely snuck into the playoffs, but were able to surprise the New Jersey Devils and goalie Martin Brodeur in five games in their first-round series. The Bruins won the season series against the Flyers with a 2-1-1 record, including the unforgettable 2-1 overtime victory in the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day at Fenway Park.
“Philly has some mojo going, too,” said Chiarelli. “If we play them it will be a crash-and-bang series. They’ve got some big physical forwards and they like to play in your face. They’ve got [Chris] Pronger on the back end, who can play the physical game and can also move the puck. That’s the type of series you’ll see there.”
Philly has been led by the surprising play of goalie Brian Boucher, who was originally a third-stringer who rose to the starting spot due to injuries.
A year ago, the Bruins swept the Canadiens in the first round and had to wait nine days before starting their semifinal series against the Carolina Hurricanes. That layoff hurt Boston as it quickly found itself down 3-1 in the series before forcing a Game 7 only to lose in overtime. This year the Bruins won’t have to wait too long.
“I know we use the word ‘complacent’ to describe some of the issues we had in last year’s second round,” said Chiarelli. “I think part of that stems from the long layoff and that complacency just creeps in naturally. We’re not going to have that long layoff now. Our guys also learned from last year about better preparing mentally for the next round. We’re not going to have that much time compared to last year, we’ll still have decent time to prepare. The stuff we’ve been through this year has helped us mentally. I just saw a consistent approach in this last series, a consistent effort.”
Chiarelli will be watching Game 7 of the Washington-Montreal series on Wednesday night, and he says it really doesn’t matter to him who wins.
“Whoever we end up playing, we’ll prepare very well for it and we’ll just proceed,” he said.
5dPierre LeBrun and Joe McDonald