There are still a few months left in the NHL regular season, but there’s no question the disparity between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens is significant.
For the third time in eight nights, the Black and Gold downed their arch rivals. The 4-1 victory extended Boston’s point-streak to 16 straight games, their longest since the Presidents Trophy-winning season in 2013-14.
David Pastrnak led the charge with a three-point night (two goals, one assist) as the B’s put another blow to the Habs’ playoff hopes at the Bell Centre Saturday night.
Here is what we learned as the Bruins sit three points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for first place in the Atlantic Division (with one game in hand).
Bruins yield the game’s first goal, again
For all the Bruins’ success over the last 16 games, there’s one area they can improve on, and that’s scoring first.
Max Pacioretty’s 15th of the season on a Charlie McAvoy turnover gave the Habs a 1-0 lead at 11:29 of the second period. This marked the fifth straight game where the Bruins allowed the first goal.
It’s not ideal, but the Bruins are digging deep and getting results. At the very least, it gives them an area to improve on.
“Obviously you don’t want to make that a habit,” Tuukka Rask told reporters following a 24-save performance. “The good thing about our team is that it doesn’t bother us, you know. [Whether] we get scored once or twice, we just keep going, keep plugging away and try to get back into the game and not kind of dwell on things on what happened before. We’re doing well in just focusing on the moment and moving forward.”
Another magnificent night from the Bergeron line
Going up against any top line is a challenging task on a nightly basis. The Bruins’ top line is making that challenge look easy.
Led by Pastrnak’s 19th (at 14:09 of the second period) and 20th (at 17:03 of the third) goals of the season, the trio accounted for three of the team’s four goals, including Torey Krug’s go-ahead goal at 15:56 of the middle stanza.
Whether it was Bergeron backchecking, Marchand drawing Habs defenders at the attacking end or Pastrnak catching Carey Price off-guard, the Bruins’ top line gave Montreal fits for the third time in eight nights. Not bad coming off their performance against the Islanders led by Bergeron’s second hat trick of the season.
“We’re trying to get better every day and every game is a new challenge for us,” Pastrnak said to the media after tying Marchand for the team lead in goals. “Obviously these games are special and you always get hyped up…it was a good game and a good week for us.”
Saturday was a small sample of the line’s success over their last 16 games. The trio has 56 points (25 goals, 31 assists) and a plus-33 rating while allowing just two five-on-five goals in that span.
McQuaid has jumped in since returning
Adam McQuaid waited patiently to return after healing from a fibula injury. With Kevan Miller fighting the flu, McQuaid finally got his chance Wednesday night.
Given the blue line’s success, McQuaid was eager to jump in and play an active role. All he’s done is given the Bruins a physical presence and reliable stay at home option — especially on the penalty kill — while staying assertive in the attacking end.
Miller met the Bruins in Montreal but watched on as McQuaid filled his spot on the third defensive pair with Matt Grzlecyk. With seven reliable options on defense, Cassidy will have a tough decision to make on the back end once Miller is cleared.
The Bruins-Canadiens rivalry has gotten civil
Every sports rivalry has its shifts in momentum. With five wins in a row against the Canadiens — three coming against former coach Claude Julien — the Bruins have complete control of hockey’s greatest rivalry.
Yet, these last three games proved that something’s missing. We’re not talking about the Habs needing a top-line center or a stud blueliner to counter the Bruins depth, but rather an injection of hatred.
Boston used to get riled up when P.K. Subban came to town. Montreal was just as riled up when Milan Lucic crossed the border. Those days are long gone and the personalities those two brought to the rivalry haven’t been replaced. Julien’s return to Boston brought its share of hype, but the on-ice product hasn’t matched the history of the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry.
The two teams meet again on March 3. With the Habs likely selling at the Feb. 26 trade deadline and the Bruins well on their way toward another postseason berth, expect another civilized meeting by the time they drop the puck for their fourth and final matchup in 2017-18.