Whatever Mark Recchi’s intentions, the Bruins today are a better team for it. Recchi talked the talk. The Bruins walked the walk. And this all now serves as backdrop should the Bruins and Montreal Canadiens meet next month in the playoffs.
Two weeks after what should forever be known as the 9-1-1 game – that’s le jeu neuf-un-un in Montreal – the Bruins annihilated the Canadiens and won by a touchdown last night at the aptly named TD Garden. Short of winning a Stanley Cup this year, Bruins fans may never experience a night more glorious than this one. Montreal still has won 9 of the last 12 meetings between these teams, but there is now little doubt of what the Bruins are capable when their hearts, souls and minds are aligned.
“It was important for us to win this hockey game, play it right, and to do it our way,” coach Claude Julien told reporters after the whuppin’. “That’s what we did tonight.”
That’s what I’m talkin’ 'bout.
Know that idealistic phrase that every hockey coach uses against his team every chance he gets? Sixty minutes of hockey. This was about as close as it gets. The Bruins outshot the Canadiens 41-24, dominated the faceoff circle (38-25) and held the Canadiens scoreless in five power play opportunities. After Nathan Horton scored at 4:03 of the third period, the Canadiens quit. The Bruins’ final goal of the night was a short-handed tally by Gregory Campbell in a 5-on-3 situation that dealt Montreal its greatest indignity since fans flooded emergency phone lines seeking justice against Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara.
In their last two games at the TD Garden, the Candiens have allowed 15 goals. Keep that in mind if and when the Canadiens return to Boston next month for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Beyond the box score and standings, let’s all agree at the very least that Recchi’s remarks in recent days can be nothing but a good sign for the Bruins. In publicly questioning the legitimacy of Max Pacioretty’s injuries, Recchi put himself out there. Just wait until he skates next in Montreal. Recchi played five full or partial seasons for the Canadiens, but Montreal fans now regard him as an insensitive, clueless lunkhead for suggesting that Pacioretty’s injuries were dramatized so as to strengthen any case against Chara.
Maybe Recchi meant it. Maybe, as he said after last night’s game, he was merely trying “to take the heat off Z for a day.” Whatever the case, Recchi is a 43-year-old man who is entirely accountable for his actions. Either way, he strengthened the necessary bonds that must exist in any locker room for a team to function well at the most critical times.
“When you see a guy with that kind of experience say something like that, you know what he’s doing,” said Julien.
And yet, Recchi still had many of us fooled.
Beyond last night, the Bruins now have only nine games remaining in the regular season. Realistically, they still could finish as high as second in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens could finish anywhere from fifth to seventh. On paper, the Bruins would be far better served to meet the New York Rangers, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes or Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs, if for no other reason than the fact the Canadiens have given them great difficulty over the last two seasons and that any series with Montreal would likely be emotionally draining.
For that reason more than any other, last night’s game meant far more to the Bruins than it did to the Canadiens. Montreal has owned this series over the last two years. In the 9-1-1 game, Montreal raced to a 4-0 lead and skated circles around the Bruins throughout, particularly noteworthy because that game was an answer for the one before it, an 8-6 Bruins win at the Garden that featured 187 penalty minutes distributed in economy-sized packaging.
And so it now goes again in this epic rivalry, one game serving as a backdrop and precursor to the other, back and forth, side to side.
For the Bruins, well beyond the Canadiens, the last five weeks have taken them from one extreme to the other. At roughly the same time that team management was acquiring Chris Kelly, Tomas Kaberle and Rich Peverley (love him), the B’s began a perfect 6-0 road trip with a victory over the New York Islanders. Then they returned home and extended their winning streak to seven with a tight, 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. They subsequently went seven games without a single victory in regulation, a period of time highlighted by the 9-1-1 game.
So what happens from here? Only the gallery gods know. But at their very core, in the center of a locker room that includes the 43-year-old Recchi as surely as it does the 19-year-old Tyler Seguin, the Bruins are united.
And like the spoked 'B' that marks the territory in the center of their sanctuary, the pieces are all connected.
Tony's Top 5
Best offseason moves in recent Red Sox history