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Boston Bruins already feeling the heat

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BOSTON – As soon as I hopped into a cab Thursday, I could feel the tension. The driver wore a Red Sox jacket and spoke with a Bah-stun accent. We talked hockey as we rode from the airport into the city, and he told me how he was still bitter about what Ken Dryden had done to his Bruins years ago – and how he couldn’t wait to see what would happen between the B’s and the Montreal Canadiens that night.

“It’ll be 1-0 or 2-1,” he said, “or 9-6 with blood all over the place.”

There was no blood Thursday night in the opener of this first-round series, despite the bad blood between the Original Six rivals. But it was a tight game, 2-0 Habs, and it gave long-suffering Bruins fans even more to fret about heading into Saturday night’s Game 2.

Look at recent Boston sports history: The Red Sox have won. The Patriots have won. The Celtics have won. But the Bruins have not. They have not won the Stanley Cup since 1972, the days of yore and Bobby Orr. The beloved Ray Bourque had to go the Colorado Avalanche to hoist one, accepting a trade in 2000, winning in 2001 and retiring.

[Puck Daddy: Anatomy of Bruins upset by Habs]

Now the expectations are high for a team that has the ability to come out of the Eastern Conference – the best goalie in the NHL in Tim Thomas(notes), a stout defense, a deep forward corps. General manager Peter Chiarelli said this week that success equals winning at least two rounds.

But that only leads to anxiety and questions about the future of coach Claude Julien if the Bruins blow it again. They collapsed in the second round last year – blowing a 3-0 series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers, including a 3-0 lead in Game 7. Though they have tried to hit the issue head-on, it’s always going to be in the back of their minds, giving them pause, and in the minds of their opponents, giving them hope.

And their opponents once again are the Canadiens, the hated Habs.

This is the 33rd playoff series between these teams; the Habs have won 24 of them. This meeting is as flammable as any, in the aftermath of the hit Zdeno Chara(notes) laid on the Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty(notes) in the regular season, leaving Pacioretty with a concussion and fractured vertebra.

Wait till Chara returns to the Bell Centre for Game 3. The Bruins are so concerned about the atmosphere that, with two days off before Game 4, they’re going to practice in Lake Placid, N.Y. Wise move. Montreal will be anything but placid.

But it won’t be as easy to escape their dilemma on the ice. The Bruins are big, strong and tough. They should be built for the playoffs. They should be able to push around the Canadiens, who are short in scoring and stature. The problem is, the Canadiens are also quick and sneaky.

How do the Bruins play their way without taking too many penalties and being burned by the Canadiens’ dangerous power play? How do they find the edge without going over it?

They were too far from it Thursday night. Canadiens captain Brian Gionta(notes), 5-foot-7 (maybe), scored early in the first period. The Habs protected that lead virtually the rest of the game, before Gionta scored again late in the third.

Shortly after the first goal, Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban(notes) gave Bruins power forward Milan Lucic(notes) a little shove after the whistle. Lucic wasn’t goaded into taking a dumb penalty. That’s good, because that’s the Habs’ game and everyone knows it. Subban later drew a hooking penalty when a stick clipped his hip and he dropped to the ice. He was booed often.

What wasn’t good was the Bruins’ reluctance to muscle their way to the net. They fired shot after shot, but the Canadiens blocked 19 of them, and goaltender Carey Price(notes) saw virtually all of the rest and made 31 saves. The Habs, so confident in Price, were content to sit back. “The second half of the game, they pretty much played 1-4,” Boston’s Tomas Kaberle(notes) said.

It was the same game plan the Habs used with goaltender Jaroslav Halak(notes) last year, when they upset the Washington Capitals, the winners of the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular-season team, and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the defending Cup champs.

“When we prepared for Boston, they have some strength and depth,” Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said. “And we have to play a way that counteracts that.”

And so the Bruins have to play a way that counteracts that.

Julien bristled when asked if they needed to be more physical.

“I’m not going to stand here and tell you everything we’re going to do, right?” Julien said. “Why, to me … Why would you ask that question? As far as physical, we just played a game that we dominated. I thought we dominated a good part of the game. We spent a lot of time in the offensive end and basically we didn’t score goals.”

Julien’s right. The Bruins did dominate a good part of the game, and it might have looked a lot different if, say, Brad Marchand(notes) had buried one or two of his golden chances without missing the net.

But being physical isn’t just about blasting guys along the boards; it’s about going to the net. Not scoring goals is kind of a big a problem, and Julien’s response only speaks to the frustration the Bruins feel. The more the shots don’t go in, the more that frustration will grow and the Habs’ confidence will rise – the more difficult it will be for the Bruins to balance keeping their composure with keeping it coming.

When the Bruins talked about Price after Game 1, so many players said they needed to “take away his eyes” that it was obvious the coaches had made it a specific point of emphasis. The Bruins better take away his eyes, or their fans better avert theirs.

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