BOSTON — Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien summed it all up after his team’s 4-2 win over Montreal in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at TD Banknorth Garden tonight.
With all the talk about how Canadiens winger Georges Laraque was going to make the Bruins pay with his physical play, and then with the way Laraque performed while playing on the Habs’ top line most of the night, there’s been more chatter about Laraque in this series than about Britney Spears in the tabloids. Julien tried to put an end to that.
“Without making a big, big statement here, I think there’s more to this game than Georges — hopefully,” Julien declared.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, Laraque did become an even larger story with his actual hockey play. While he bragged to everyone that would listen about how he was going to affect the series with his body, he didn’t let on that he would be skating a regular shift alongside offensive stalwarts Alex Kovalev and Saku Koivu.
“I knew. That was the plan,” he said after he skated for 13:12 of ice time and fired two shots on net during a point-less outing. “I knew for a while that we were going to try to get more room for our skill guys. We knew they were going to use (Zdeno) Chara against our top two skill guys. That is a way to kind of neutralize him. It is a big body against him. He had to tie me up and that will free up two other guys. I knew we were going to do that and it worked fine. We had a lot of chances tonight.”
The Bruins weren’t caught off-guard by Laraque’s increased role in the Habs’ offense. And that’s because they rarely worry about the other team and just focus within their own club. But Aaron Ward, Chara’s regular defense partner all night, did notice that Laraque was making life a little more difficult for Boston.
“He created room; he did was he does well. He rags the puck and he’s a physical presence. He’s a hard guy to move,” said Ward.
As for the stuff beyond the actual hockey, the Bruins had an answer — or lack thereof — for that also.
“No matter what he says, it’s in one ear and out the other,” said winger Milan Lucic, who conceded that he does chirp back a little bit. “I’m just going to go out there and play my game. That’s what I need to do to help the team have success, so that’s all I’m going to do no matter what he says.”
The Bruins can probably expect to see more of Laraque in all his incarnations as this series moves on.
“He had the puck, he didn’t make errors with the puck and had a couple of shots on net,” said Montreal head coach Bob Gainey. “I think he provided the Bruins with a challenge just moving his size around in the crease area, where he can establish himself, and if it would pay off for some offensive results, his presence there would be a real bonus for our team.”