Bruins know Philly's the real prize

BOSTON -- Euphoria will quickly turn to bitter determination once the Boston Bruins, and certainly their fans, wake up Thursday morning.

Once everyone wipes the crusty stuff out of their eyes and realizes that the Bruins actually defeated the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals with a 4-3 overtime victory Wednesday night at TD Garden, the focus will turn to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Yes, those Philadelphia Flyers.

The Flyers that mounted an historic comeback last spring against the Bruins and turned what should have been a promising playoff run into devastation for Boston. The Bruins had a 3-0 series lead in the semifinals before the Flyers won four straight to end Boston's season in Game 7 at the Garden.

Now, the Bruins have a chance to redeem themselves. They have a chance to reward this city and its fans for living through The Nightmare on Causeway Street.

After an impressive series win over the Canadiens, it didn't take long for the Bruins to turn their focus on the Flyers.

"I'm not going to lie, it's a good opportunity for us to hopefully exorcise some demons," Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference said.

Sure, both teams are a bit different from a season ago, but the core is intact and so are the memories of that disastrous collapse.

"This is a fresh start for us," Ference added. "We learned lessons from last year, there's no doubt about that. There are guys that are still on this team and we're not afraid to talk about those lessons. We've got a chance to try to make things a little bit better this year."

After the Flyers beat the Bruins, Philadelphia took it to the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference finals to advance to the Stanley Cup finals, but lost to the Blackhawks. It could have easily been the Bruins who advanced to the Cup finals last season, but it didn't happen. It could this time around.

After Wednesday's victory over the Canadiens, Bruins president Cam Neely stood in the locker room and talked about the character and resiliency of this team.

"It was a series that our team just wasn't going to be denied," Neely said.

The Bruins were down 2-0 in this series before clawing their way back. In fact, three of their fours wins came in overtime, and an emotional win like this could no doubt set the tone for a deep run through the playoffs.

"It's certainly something you can build and feed off of," Neely said. "To go down the first two at home and then go into the other team's building, especially in Montreal, which is not an easy place to play, and take those two games, there's a lot of good things the guys can look to from this series."

It's only fitting that the Boston Bruins would have to beat the Canadiens, and now the Flyers, for a chance to reach the Eastern Conference finals en route to a possible visit with Lord Stanley.

"Obviously, when you get to the next round you're excited and you know you have some business to take care of, but for the guys in here maybe there's a little bit of incentive," Neely said.

In order for the Bruins to have an opportunity to play the Flyers, they had to get past the Canadiens first. Bruins coach Claude Julien spoke to his players prior to Game 7 and explained that they had to be calm and confident.

"It was important for us to get ourselves back in the series. There was a lot at stake in this series," Julien said. "We understand the rivalry between Montreal and Boston and it was a big deal for us. We really focused on that, and no doubt tonight, winning this game would give us another opportunity to play Philly. If anything, it's going to make it interesting because there will be a lot of people watching this and see how it develops. We're excited to have that opportunity."

After last season's devastating loss to the Flyers, Bruins assistant captain Mark Recchi sat at his locker completely dejected by what had happened. After contemplating retirement, he decided to return for a 23rd season in the NHL because he believed this team has what it takes to win the Stanley Cup.

When asked about revisiting the Flyers, the future Hall of Famer wanted to enjoy this victory first.

"We'll talk about that on Friday," Recchi said. "We know it's another great rivalry. They have a great hockey team and it's going to be another tough battle and every night is going to be the same way. They just had a tough series with Buffalo and it's going to be the same type of thing. We're gonna have to be ready, but right now we're going to think about this one and enjoy it."

When the Bruins lost to the Flyers last spring, Boston goalie Tim Thomas served as the team's backup to Tuukka Rask. This season it will be Thomas' turn. The Vezina Trophy finalist, who made 34 saves in Game 7 against the Habs, said he hasn't even thought about Philadelphia just yet.

"I think a night like tonight, I deserve at least until midnight to revel in it," Thomas said with a sigh of relief.

The Canadiens were pulled out of the Garden toes up Wednesday night.

"It felt pretty good," Julien said with a huge smile after the Bruins' first win in a Game 7 since 1994 (they had been 0 for their last 4). "My first year here we took Montreal to seven games and we lost. Then it was Carolina (2008-2009) and Philadelphia (2009-2010), so to be able to win a seventh game you feel happy. It happened in our building and the fans were excited, elated to see that goal go in. For us, as a group, it was nice to reward our fans with that because they've been punished enough."

It was no dream. The Bruins beat the Canadiens. And now the Bruins need to bury the Flyers.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.