MONTREAL (AP) – The Boston Bruins gave Claude Julien the best possible present leading into his 49th birthday on Thursday.

Julien, Boston’s head coach, gave his players a well-earned day off after the Bruins’ 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night that sealed a four-game sweep of their first-round playoff series.

Boston, the top seed in the Eastern Conference, will have a lengthy break after joining Vancouver as the first two teams to advance to the second round of the NHL playoffs.

“I don’t think it can hurt,” goalie Tim Thomas said after the Bruins claimed their first series win in 10 years. “You’ve just got to be ready to start playing again when they do play again.

“I think it’s always good to get some rest, and also a mental rest,” he added. “We bore down really hard to make sure that we didn’t relax and we didn’t get too overconfident and just sit on the wins that we had, but I think it takes a lot of mental energy to do that so I think we can use this time to rest a little bit physically and mentally.”

Thomas, a likely contender for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender, will make the most of the break to get back to full health.

“The sickness part is hanging on,” Thomas said. “I’m glad we got the win (Wednesday night) so I can get over the sinus infection, and hopefully I got that spring sickness so I’ll be good for the rest of the playoffs.”

The Bruins will face the East’s lowest surviving seed in the next round. Boston would face the New York Rangers if they beat Washington. If not, they could face Carolina, if it gets by New Jersey, or the winner of the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia series.

Thomas hadn’t completely absorbed the significance of the Bruins’ playoff drought ending by way of a quick sweep of a Montreal team ravaged by injuries.

“Ask me again Friday, it hasn’t sunk in yet, you know what I mean?” Thomas said. “I never really felt that cloud. Last year we were the eighth seed going up against the number one seed and I think we gave it a heck of a shot last year. This year, with how we’ve gotten better as a team over the year, we were the number one seed and we showed it, so I never really bought into the cloud.”

Michael Ryder led the way for the Bruins in the two games in Montreal, getting the winner against his former team Monday before scoring twice and adding an assist in the clincher.

Ryder, who left the Canadiens to sign a three-year, $12-million free agent contract with Boston, credited the work of linemate David Krejci for his success.

“He’s definitely got a lot of vision out there and he sees the ice really well,” Ryder said. “He sees the play develop a lot quicker than a lot of other players do and for me I can read off him pretty good and I kind of know what he’s thinking and try to get in those spots where I know where he’s going to get the puck.”

P.J. Axelsson is the only member of the Bruins that was in the lineup when Boston won its last series, and he acknowledged that he enjoyed this sweep even more than the first-round win over Carolina in 1999.

“When you have to wait that long it feels really good to go past the first round, that’s just the way it is,” said Axelsson, who has spent his entire 12-year career with the Bruins. “I’m getting old now. I don’t have too many shots at it so it feels good.”

The sweep gave Boston just its eighth series win over the Canadiens in 32 playoff meetings between the two longtime antagonists.

Despite the bitter rivalry, Thomas got a message of encouragement from Montreal’s Georges Laraque when the two opponents – and one-time minor league teammates – shook hands on the ice after the game.

“He said, ‘Go win the Cup!”‘ Thomas said.

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