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Habs are favored in one-sided series.

Byline: Bud Barth

COLUMN: BRUINS NOTES

BOSTON - The playoff possibilities were an indecipherable tangle for the Bruins heading into their regular-season finale against Buffalo last night, but one thing they did know for sure - a win over the Sabres meant they definitely wouldn't have to face arch-nemesis Montreal in the first round.

That apparently wasn't enough motivation to prevent the B's from choking on their celebratory champagne. They came out firing blanks in a 3-0 loss that relegated them to a first-round meeting with the troublesome Habs. The series is expected to start Thursday and Saturday in Montreal.

Obviously, Boston will be a heavy underdog based on its 11 straight losses to the Canadiens - eight of them this season (0-7-1) - and its litany of postseason flops against the storied franchise. Montreal has won 23 of the 30 playoff series between the teams, including the last two in 2002 and 2004 when the Bruins were seeded first and the Canadiens were eighth.

That scenario might be reversed this time, although the seedings might be No. 2 vs. No. 7 if Pittsburgh beats Philadelphia this afternoon. But there's no escaping the opponent, which doesn't seem to rattle the Boston players and coaches.

"Is it 11 now in a row that we haven't beaten them? That's the number that keeps coming up to everybody," B's coach Claude Julien said. "The number that comes up to me is the last two games that we played 'em."

That was a home-and-home series late last month. First, the Canadiens posted a 4-2 victory in Boston when Julien said the deciding factor was Montreal getting "a couple of lucky breaks." Three days later, the Bruins took the Habs into a shootout in Montreal before losing, 3-2. Boston outshot the Canadiens in both games.

"I wouldn't say we have anything on them right now," defenseman Aaron Ward said, adding that "it makes for a great series" having bad blood between the teams. "It's the playoffs, it's a new season, and inevitably things will change because it's a new season."

Does he mean a change in the outcome?

"It's a clean slate this time of year," winger Shawn Thornton added, carefully trying to avoid giving the Habs any bulletin board material. "I'm looking forward to it."

Then, he added: "They've got a good team, we've got to be careful against them. That's all you're getting out of me. I'm not giving them any fuel."

Goalie Tim Thomas didn't even want to talk about the vaunted Habs.

"I haven't started to think about Montreal yet," he said, his head still spinning over Friday's clincher. "I'm going to try and sit back and enjoy what we've accomplished so far. For me, it hasn't really set in yet."

Bergeron real long shot

The $64,000 question continues to be: Will Patrice Bergeron make it back for the playoffs?

The $64,000 answer: Don't count on it, unless the Bruins make it past the first round, and even then it's a long shot.

Begeron is scheduled to see a neurologist tomorrow at which time he'll be told if can begin full-contact practices. Even if he gets the green light, the 22-year-old center has said he'll need 7-10 days of full-blown practices before he's ready to go. That means he couldn't be expected to return until somewhere around April 15-17 at the earliest. The first series, if it goes the limit, likely will end on or about April 21.

Chuck Kobasew needs 4-6 weeks for his broken tibia to heal, and that would mean an April 16 return at the earliest, April 30 at the outside. Count him as doubtful, too.

Center and leading scorer Marc Savard, whose back was injured by a cross-check from Montreal's Steve Begin, skated briefly for the first time on Friday and also worked out off-ice.

"I'm feeling better, I'm taking it step by step," Savard said last night. "I haven't had anything hold me back so far. There's definitely still some pain in some areas. (Today) I'm going to skate again, probably on my own, and go from there."

Savard indicated that a Thursday start to the series, as expected, might be enough time for him to return.

Defenseman Andrew Ference (knee) has been skating but was held out of last night's game. He is expected to be ready for the postseason opener.

Sturm is Dufresne winner

The Bruins cleaned up their annual awards business last night before the game, then gave their jerseys to 26 selected fans in the annual "Shirts Off Our Backs" promotion after the game.

The Elizabeth Dufresne Trophy, awarded by the Boston chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association to the outstanding player in home games, went to winger Marco Sturm; the Eddie Shore Award from the "Gallery Gods," to Phil Kessel; the John P. Bucyk Award, to the player who has contributed the most to charitable and community causes during his tenure with the Bruins, to captain Zdeno Chara; and the WBZ Three Stars of the Game awards to Thomas (1st), Savard (2nd) and Sturm (3rd).

NAME: BOSTON BRUINS
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 6, 2008
Words:847
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