MONTREAL -- Coach Mike Sullivan figured he had harped on the point until he was blue in the face. It was looking like the next step was going to be to tattoo the message in big letters on his forehead. For most of their first nine games, the Bruins came out sluggishly, allowing the opponent to dictate the pace and usually to score the first goal.
The first-year coach hopes his players' performance last night in game No. 10 proves once and for all that they have gotten the message and are cured of their opening-period malaise. A strong start led to a satisfying finish as the Bruins frustrated the Montreal Canadiens, 2-0, behind the 23-save effort of goalie Felix Potvin, who earned his first shutout in a Boston uniform and 29th of his career.
Eighteen-year-old rookie Patrice Bergeron, playing his first NHL game in his native province, scored the winning goal (No. 3 of his young career) and left wing Mike Knuble added the insurance tally to give Boston its sixth victory in seven games.
"I really liked the start," said Sullivan. "It's something we talk about. We've given up the first goal in a fair amount of games so far [seven out of 10] and that's an area where we have to get better. We talked about it the last couple of days, having better starts and making sure we control the momentum right off the bat. I thought we did a pretty good job tonight."
Captain Joe Thornton said it was a relief to come out of the gate strong and stay that way.
"Lately we've been letting the other team get that first goal," said Thornton. "That was one thing we addressed before the game. We knew they were coming off back-to-back games and they were going to be a little tired. They were a little tired. That first goal seemed to put them in a hole. They kept on fighting all night but couldn't get it past Felix."
It all stemmed from the play in the neutral zone. When the Canadiens have been successful, they've scored first and then switched to the trap to smother the opponent. Last night, the Bruins turned the tables on their Northeast Division rival. The Habs had just three shots in the opening 20 minutes to 10 for Boston.
"I've said on more than one occasion, it's really a critical area of the ice for our team," said Sullivan. "When we make good decisions through the neutral zone with the puck, it allows us to get our skating legs and to get the puck into the area of the ice where our team is good. We've got some big forwards who are really tough to contain when we get the puck in the right areas of the ice."
Bergeron's strike came during a power play at 10:27 of the first period. With right wing Richard Zednik off for high sticking, Bergeron, working a give-and-go with left wing Sergei Samsonov, got the puck back from Samsonov in the slot and beat goalie Mathieu Garon at 10:27.
"It's a big thrill," said Bergeron, who had about 30 family members and friends in attendance. "I'm real happy about that. It was a big win and a big 2 points for us. It was a big game for me and I'm excited about it."
Bergeron said he felt he got a little fortunate on his goal.
"I just exchanged the puck with Sergei Samsonov and he made an unbelievable pass," he said. "At first I shot it but it deflected somewhere and I tipped it in with my stick in the air. It was a little bit lucky but I'll take it."
The Bruins sealed it at 10:09 of the second when Knuble potted his fifth of the year, taking a centering pass and beating Garon from the right circle.
Potvin said he received the kind of support he'd been expecting, this time right from the outset.
"This was much better," he said. "You can't always start behind the 8-ball. We came out strong tonight. This is close to our best game of the year. We played from start to finish."
Though Potvin wasn't tested all that often, the scoring chances he faced were quality ones.
"It was kind of weird," he said. "They kind of came in flurries. They've got some dangerous shooters, where you've got to stay on your game, but I thought overall we played really well, very strong."