WILMINGTON, Mass. — Boston Bruins winger P.J. Axelsson has been on both sides of these one-eight first-round playoff matchups — both times with the same result.
In 2004, Axelsson suffered the upset at the hands of the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens. And then, of course, last year the eighth-seeded Bruins pushed the Habs to the limit before bowing out. So what lesson does he take from those experiences that could help him and his teammates avoid a similar fate as the No. 1 seed against the Habs in a series that starts Thursday?
“Just put that aside, I think. I mean, come out and play. I really believe in don’t change anything just play,” the longest-tenured Bruins said after practice today at Ristuccia Arena.
Axelsson always has a way of getting his point across in the most succinct matter. Fellow ’04 Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron echoed Axelsson’s sentiments in a more expansive manner.
“I think it comes down to playing hockey and just play your game. We’ve been doing that all year, taking it one game at a time. I know it’s kind of cliché, but that’s what we’ve got to do,” said the center. “Being a first seed or an eighth seed, it all comes down to that. That’s about it. I don’t think it matters once you’re in the playoffs whether you’re a first seed or an eighth seed. You’ve got to play hockey.”
The Canadiens players are already talking about embracing their underdog role and playing with less pressure than comes with sitting atop the conference. The Bruins need look back just 12 months to know that last year’s Bruins were this year’s Habs. That’s why players like Mark Stuart don’t even look at the seedings or listen to the hype.
“It helps to have been in their position last year, but it doesn’t really matter what seed you are. The playoffs, people say it a lot, but it really is a whole new season. That’s how we approached it last year and that’s how we’re going to approach it this year again,” Stuart said.
“I don’t think so, just because you kind of regroup and retool your mind and just say it’s a completely new season, whatever happened before doesn’t matter, and I think it’s important to approach it that way,” said Stuart when asked if he buys into any of the pressure that comes with the top seed. “Obviously, last year it might’ve been a little bit easier to approach that way because we were the eighth seed, but I think if you ask any of the guys in here they’ll say the same thing.”
However, the experience of giving the Habs all they could handle last year might help the Bruins have a little more insight into Montreal’s psyche and what it’s going to take to dispose of the Habs this season.
“I think as an underdog, I guess you can say there’s a little bit less pressure. But I think being there last year, we know now that it’s not going to be easy because we never gave up last year and we know they’re not just going to roll over and let us walk all over them,” winger Milan Lucic noted. “So that’s, I guess you can say, the biggest thing we learned last year.”