Series has redeeming quality

Bruins look for payback vs. Flyers

Tim Thomas backstopped the Bruins past Montreal, and now comes a rematch with the Flyers. Tim Thomas backstopped the Bruins past Montreal, and now comes a rematch with the Flyers. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / April 29, 2011

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Hockey players are like elephants. Rarely does something elude their memories.

But before Game 7 against the Canadiens Wednesday, coach Claude Julien made certain to remind his charges of the following: With just one more win, the Bruins could set up a second-round rematch against Philadelphia, the team that turned them into punch lines last year.

The message came through.

“Claude had mentioned it to them prior to the game,’’ said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. “ ‘Here’s another chance to redeem yourselves.’

“There’s an interesting note. In Game 7 of last year, there were nine players in that game on our team now, our roster now. So there’s been over half the team that’s turned over.

“But the core players lived through that. You’d have to ask them, but it’s been a consistent theme this year. It’s fitting that we’re playing them.’’

The 2010-11 Bruins are built around Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas. Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Mark Recchi make up the next tier of talent. Complementary pieces include Michael Ryder, Daniel Paille, Shawn Thornton, Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid, and Tuukka Rask. All of those players suffered through last season’s death spiral, although not all played in Game 7 because of injuries, lineup decisions, etc.

To make his team better for a deeper run, Chiarelli traded for Nathan Horton, Gregory Campbell, Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley, and Tomas Kaberle.

Starting tomorrow at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Chiarelli will see whether the rebooted Bruins will fare better than last year’s version.

“It wasn’t the sole driving force of the player moves that we did,’’ Chiarelli said. “You look at the season, you look at the playoffs, you look at where you want to be and what you need. But certainly you look at some performances in that series, you place a certain amount of weight on those performances, then you make your decisions. It just so happens that maybe subconsciously, it was driving us.’’

In this year’s first round, the team Chiarelli assembled faced the fight of its life against a scrappy and shorthanded Montreal club. Without Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, and Max Pacioretty (two top-four defensemen and a top-six forward), the Canadiens took the Bruins to seven games. Three of the games went to overtime, including Game 7.

Last year, the Bruins gagged. This season, the Bruins thrived.

“We earned three overtime games. We won those three,’’ Chiarelli said. “That’s the highest pressure point in the playoffs. We managed to win those three.

“I saw, at times, we had some defensive breakdowns. But I saw settling. I saw us settle it and not panic. It’s not that we didn’t panic at all or some of the time. But we just settled pucks down. We made the right pass, whether it was to the center seam or something. Then we broke out fine.

“I just saw that growing a bit as the series went on. You look to have that. I hope we continue to have that.’’

On paper, the Canadiens didn’t have the Bruins’ horses. But a similar Montreal underdog rolled through two opponents last year to advance to the Eastern Conference finals against the Flyers.

As they did last season for coach Jacques Martin, the Canadiens took advantage of the skill and speed of their forwards. Mike Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn, Scott Gomez, and Brian Gionta stretched out the Boston defense to earn quality sniffs on goal.

Defensemen Hal Gill and P.K. Subban smothered the Bruins’ first line of Lucic, Krejci, and Horton. The rest of the Canadiens gummed up shooting lanes and forced the Bruins to the perimeter. When there were breakdowns, goaltender Carey Price stood tall to bail out his teammates.

Philadelphia couldn’t be more different. The Flyers feature a blend of skill and surliness up front. Claude Giroux racked up a 1-8—9 line in the first round against Buffalo. Danny Briere sniped six goals, most of any player in the opening round. In Game 3 last year, Krejci learned how nasty Mike Richards can be when the Philadelphia captain’s first-period wallop knocked him out of the series. Former University of New Hampshire star James van Riemsdyk is maturing into a go-to forward. The Flyers play with pace.

On the back end, Chris Pronger is still healing from a hand injury that kept him out of the first five games of the first round. He might not be 100 percent, but he could be used in a shutdown role against Krejci’s line. Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette, as usual, has leaned on Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros, Braydon Coburn, and Matt Carle to assume heavy workloads.

The question mark, as always with the Flyers, is between the pipes. In the first round, Sergei Bobrovsky failed. So did Michael Leighton.

Brian Boucher, who suffered a knee sprain in Game 5 against Boston last year, will be the starting goalie tomorrow. Boucher is 4-1 with a 2.10 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage in the playoffs.

“They’re bigger, first and foremost,’’ Chiarelli said. “That’s a huge difference. You saw with Montreal, they stretch the ice, they’re always coming at you, and they’re fast.

“These guys don’t stretch the ice as much. But they go to the weak side a lot in the neutral zone. They’re coming in rushes.

“They’re north-south. They’re like us to a certain degree. They’ve got skilled players. They’ve got some heavy players.’’

The Bruins’ quest for revenge starts tomorrow.

Ference was not suspended for his Game 7 hit on Jeff Halpern. Ference had a disciplinary hearing yesterday morning with Mike Murphy, NHL senior vice president of hockey operations.

Under review was how Ference appeared to catch Halpern up high with his right arm. Halpern was knocked to the ice and required assistance skating to the dressing room. Halpern left the game at 8:30 of the third. He returned to the bench at 8:43.

“I thought it was just incidental contact,’’ Chiarelli said. “When I took a closer look, I saw where the league’s concerns lie.

“When you look at the whole play, we turned the puck over at our blue line. When that happens, the D is supposed to close off the rim around the wall. [Ference] was moving that way.

“What Andy said was that he just saw [Halpern] off his shoulder as he was moving. Looking up as he saw the turnover, his motion and the player’s motion ran into each other.’’

Game 7 against the Canadiens earned a 17.7 rating locally, making it the most-watched program in NESN history. The previous record was a 14.1 for Game 7 in the second-round series against the Hurricanes in 2009.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto

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