Even after a pair of jaw-dropping moves by Alex Kovalev that led to two Montreal goals in the second period, David Krejci had two opportunities to tie the score.
Mark Stuart sailed a shot from the left point that Krejci tipped, but goalie Carey Price stayed with the puck and kicked it out with his left pad. Krejci, stationed in the slot, tried to reload by opening the face of his stick, setting himself to roof the puck over a down-and-out Price. But Krejci couldn't get enough power behind his attempt, and what would have been Boston's second goal skittered wide.
"There was a loose puck for sure," said Krejci. "I should have scored."
Krejci's miss was as close as the Bruins would get.
The Canadiens scored the next two goals in the third period, enough cushion to withstand a late strike by Dennis Wideman, to claim a 4-2 victory before 17,565 at TD Banknorth Garden. It was the seventh win in seven tries for the Canadiens over the Bruins this season.
"We never gave up," said Marc Savard. "We know we have a big game again [tomorrow]. We want to keep trying to work our way through it. We had pressure chances all night. But same old song and dance. We've got to get some goals."
The Bruins put 36 pucks on Price. But the rookie netminder, awarded the No. 1 job when general manager Bob Gainey traded Cristobal Huet at the deadline, looked like the next coming of Ken Dryden, calmly kicking out 34 shots without a hint of panic to his quiet-as-the-library game. The Bruins had their best pressure in the first period, putting 15 shots on goal, but Price stopped every one.
"I can't put the puck in the net for the players," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "I think we've shown in the past that we're capable of scoring. Somewhere in that dressing room, someone's got some goals in them. It's time that we stepped out and started scoring goals if we want to win hockey games. That's all I can say."
Over their last 10 games (2-5-3), the Bruins have scored only 14 goals. The remedy, one Julien has preached all season, would be for the Bruins to crash the net, create traffic, and score some ugly goals.
But the majority of their 36 shots came when Price had clear looks, making the rookie's job that much easier. The Bruins had five power plays, but even with the return of Zdeno Chara (team-leading nine man-advantage goals this season), Boston put only five shots on goal with an extra skater.
"We seem to outshoot every team in the last 15 games," said Savard, whose team held a 36-30 shot advantage over Montreal. "We're outshooting everybody but still coming out on the short end a lot of nights. We think we're at the net, but maybe we're not."
Twenty-seven ticks after the second of Kovalev's big-time goals, the Bruins halted Montreal's momentum when Stuart halved the Canadiens' lead. Chuck Kobasew, from deep in the left corner, fed the puck to the point. It nearly skittered out of the zone, but Shane Hnidy dived to keep it from rolling over the blue line. Hnidy tapped the puck to the right point for Stuart, who put a one-timer on goal that eluded Price at 13:48.
But after Krejci failed to tie the score, the Canadiens poured on the offense again in the third period to put the game out of reach. Captain Saku Koivu won a puck battle against the end boards in the Boston zone, then found sniper Michael Ryder open in the slot. The right wing buried his shot at 6:47, making it 3-1. Montreal scored its fourth goal after Kovalev, dangling behind the net, fooled Tim Thomas into thinking he was going to attempt a wraparound. Instead, Kovalev went against the grain and slid a sharp-angle pass to linemate Andrei Kostitsyn for a goal-mouth strike that crossed the line while Thomas was looking the wrong way.
"It's frustrating to lose," said Wideman. "We haven't been playing real strong of late. We had a couple games where we turned it around, but overall we're in a tough stretch right now. It's a lot like the playoffs, and we have do a better job of playing 60 minutes."
Tomorrow, the Bruins have one last regular-season chance at Bell Centre to mar Montreal's perfect record against them. But with the situation as it is (no Patrice Bergeron, no Andrew Alberts, no Manny Fernandez, no offense, and no confidence), it appears the Canadiens have too much skill, touch, and finish for the lunchpail Bruins to handle. Seven times this season, the Bruins have been the amateur chamber orchestra to Montreal's New York Philharmonic.
Both like to play, but only one can make the music sing.