Silver linings and all, but did Monday night really exhibit that the Bruins have gotten closer to solving the Canadiens?
Just as they did in a 4-1 win at Montreal earlier this month (which was win No. 5 of the Bruins’ now-defunct winning streak, a tear that ended at 12 with a 2-1 shootout loss to the Habs at the TD Garden last night), Boston did show improvement in handling the speed of the Canadiens, a factor that had helped lead to a five-game losing streak versus their sniveling rivals. That’s especially encouraging considering these two teams could meet in the NHL playoffs for the first time since 2011.
But even though the Bruins controlled play for much of the evening on Monday, let the record show that Tuukka Rask is now 3-10-3 against Montreal in his career, 95-49-18 versus the rest of the NHL. Of course, Chris Kelly’s stick could perhaps be held more accountable for Alexei Emelin’s first-period goal than Rask, but his record remains a staggering aberration. Meanwhile, Canadiens backup goalie Peter Budaj continued to frustrate Boston skaters, with 28 saves and his second win of the season at the Garden, where he now boasts a 5-0-0 mark with a .960 save percentage in his career. He’s 2-1 against the Bruins this season with a 1.95 GAA.
“Some goalies feel comfortable to play in different buildings, and obviously Peter feels pretty comfortable about playing here,” Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. “He deserved to win with the way he played and he battled hard. The decision for us is that we want to put an athlete in a position where he will get a challenge, and definitely tonight was a challenge for Peter and he responded the way we expected."
The fact that the Bruins dominated the shot chart Monday night in even-strength play (out-shooting Montreal 22-9) was a clear sign that not allowing their emotions to get the better of them when playing the agitating Canadiens can lead to success. And while Montreal went just 1-for-6 on the power play, can you imagine Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, and the like keeping their cool by the time they possibly play a fourth game against each other over the course of eight days?
That’s probably why, to the chagrin of salivating fans waiting for barbs to be tossed in the advance hours of Monday’s game, Claude Julien was careful not to play up the rivalry aspect with the Habs, maintaining that Montreal was merely no more than “a different sweater.”
On the other hand, the Canadiens weren’t exactly shy about the antagonism that exists between the two franchises, even stopping to rooting for the Bruins Saturday night against the Coyotes. After all, why should they have been the one to end Boston’s win streak?
“We were checking the score the other night against Phoenix, Phoenix is up going into the third period. We were kind of hoping Boston would come back to win so we would get the chance to knock them off,” the Canadiens’ Dale Wiese said. “Boston-Montreal is a big rivalry, and for us this is a potential playoff matchup down the road, so we want to put a little doubt in their mind that we’re a hard team to play against.”
The more the Canadiens seem to try to get under the Bruins’ skin, the more Julien seems to try to shield his team from their comments. Fat chance. In the first two periods Monday night, the Habs did what they always manage to do to the Bruins: forced them to take too many penalties, an undisciplined nature that the fans love, but one that can put the team in a quick hole. If they meet in the playoffs, that intensity is only going to get more magnified.
Monday night’s most evident boil (unless you count Brad Marchand’s apple-dunking of PK Subban behind the net) not surprisingly came between Lucic and Emelin, who hip-checked Lucic early in the game. In the third period, Lucic appeared to stick tap Emelin’s buttocks, but the Habs forward went down like George C. Scott in “Man hit by football.” Did Lucic’s blade make it a bit too far between the legs, or was Emelin simply doing as Canadiens do?
“I just skated by him, and that’s all,” said Lucic, who also called Emelin “chicken” for his check in the first period. “People are trying to say I speared him. I did not spear him, so that’s it.”
So, that’s it.
Or maybe not.
A playoff series against the Canadiens may be awfully fun to watch, but it’s probably not the best position for the Bruins to be in. Julien may feel the need to preach it’s just another sweater, but everyone knows better. The Canadiens know how to tweak the Bruins’ emotions. While it may not necessarily have hurt them Monday, it’s the biggest exploit the Canadiens have on their hands.
And make no mistake, it’s a big one.