On the heels of a shootout victory Wednesday night in Chicago, the Bruins had to face the Montreal Canadiens last night at TD Banknorth Garden. The Bruins had not beaten the Canadiens in 12 regular-season games over two seasons, and Montreal eliminated them from the playoffs last season.
But the Bruins nearly blew the Canadiens out of the building with a three-goal first period, and did not back down until they had pocketed a 6-1 victory.
It was the workhorses from the fourth line who gave the Bruins their opening burst. Shawn Thornton scored his first goal of the season at 2:31 of the first period, skating away from Mike Komisarek to move in alone on Montreal goalie Carey Price and lift a confident backhander into the net.
"It felt good, finally," said Thornton, who had four goals and three assists in 58 games last season. "It's been a while. I don't know how many shots you get point blank, so it's nice to get that monkey off my back. My line has been so good, everyone's getting chances, so it felt good to be able to contribute."
The Thornton-Stephane Yelle-Chuck Kobasew line draws the fourth-line label because it is generally the last group to take the ice, but the trio's energetic, smart play has been resulting in more ice time. Things happen when they are on the ice, and their reliability gives coach Claude Julien the luxury of playing everyone.
"You can't give enough credit to that line," said Julien, "because of the fact that we keep mentioning that depth is important to our hockey club. Even before [Wednesday] night's game, I told the guys the importance of being able to use four lines to do the job [Wednesday] night, but also to have a chance at it tonight. It was important that everyone showed up."
While the Bruins were jetting back from Chicago, the Canadiens were waiting in Boston. But it was the Bruins who skated with fresh legs.
"It certainly was a good way to start because we always seem to be behind the eight-ball with this team [Montreal]," said Julien. "To get the early lead was nice. Sometimes you need a break, and we got it."
Thornton, who had not scored since March 25, then set up Yelle at 17:00. Thornton took the puck from Saku Koivu in the neutral zone. With both Yelle and Kobasew clogging the front of the net, Thornton took a swipe at the puck, and Yelle knocked in the rebound.
"We've worked hard on the line all season," said Yelle, "and we've had some chances. On a night like tonight when you get a few goals, that's a big thing."
Thornton and Yelle have played together all season, and Kobasew joined them when he returned from a fractured leg last Saturday.
"Tonight, to get that goal early on was a big boost for us," said Yelle, who was signed by the Bruins as a free agent Sept. 3. "You follow every team, but last year I was following the playoffs and that [Bruins-Canadiens] rivalry. Coming here, early in the season guys were talking about it. It makes for fun games."
Yelle got a second goal at 8:44 of the third, taking a feed from Kobasew and firing from the top left circle to boost the Bruins' lead to 6-1.
"It's clicked with Chucky," Yelle said. "He just works hard and he's got good wheels. It makes it easy. By his speed and physical presence, he creates a lot of space out there."
The Bruins, who twice had four-goal leads, rang up their largest margin of victory over the Canadiens since a 5-0 win Dec. 20, 2001. Having a deep bench was a benefit.
"It definitely helps us, to play 12-13 minutes," Thornton said. "You feel like you're more involved, you've got your legs under you a little more."