Habs remain cautiously optimistic

Canadians wins with a final score of 2 to 1 during overtime period of the NHL match between the...

Canadians wins with a final score of 2 to 1 during overtime period of the NHL match between the Montreal Canadians and the Chicago Blackhawks at the Bell Center. April 5th 2011 in Montreal. (Jocelyn Malette/QMI AGENCY)

DANNY VEAR, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:51 PM ET

BROSSARD, Que. -- The Montreal Canadiens are enjoying their underdog role as they prepare for their first-round matchup against Boston Thursday at the TD Garden.

The sixth-seeded Canadiens won four of six games against Boston in a knock-down, drag-out regular season series but most are predicting that the Bruins will advance. Some of the Habs aren't so sure the series will go as predicted, though.

"They are favourites, but we can beat them," Habs winger Mathieu Darche said Tuesday at the team's practice facility near Montreal.

Captain Brian Gionta, who won a Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 2003, shared his teammate's enthusiasm.

"Both teams have a good goalkeeper and a solid defence," said Gionta, who has nine playoff campaigns under his belt . "But we showed we could beat them during the season. In the playoffs, we will work harder to win."

Defenceman Brent Sopel, who won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks last spring, says the Canadiens will have to overcome the obvious size disadvantage if they hope to beat the Bruins.

"(Playoff) hockey is a battle for space, for possession of the puck on every inch of the ice," he said. "The Bruins are big and strong. If we follow our game plan, we could surprise them."

The Canadiens said they'll counter the Bruins' size with patience and discipline.

"We have to stay out of the penalty box," said veteran defenceman Jaroslav Spacek. "Neither team can afford to lose its cool. The game will be tight and the team that scores the first goal will definitely have an advantage."

Last spring, the Capitals, Penguins and the Flyers tried to intimidate the Canadiens with their size, but Spacek said, "it didn't work. We survived because we remained patient. We must do the same against the Bruins."

The Canadiens might only have one major advantage over the Bruins on paper: special teams. The Habs ranked in the top 10 in the NHL in power-play and shorthanded goals during the regular season. Tampa and Vancouver were the only other teams to accomplish the feat.

Gionta said the advantage could be amplified during a playoff series.

"Teams should be disciplined enough not to take bad penalties and we should enjoy our advantages when they happen," he said. "Special teams can change the momentum of a game."


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