It was an ugly night at the Bell Centre for the Bruins.
That’s nothing new. Boston will finish this season without a win in the Canadiens’ barn and there have been plenty of other disappointing nights over the years on Montreal ice, whether in this building or the Habs’ former home, the Forum.
But Tuesday night had a different kind of ugliness beyond just the Bruins’ poor showing in a key divisional clash that they never threatened to even make a game out before falling by a 4-1 final score. No, this one will be remembered for the scary incident that brought the second period to a premature end.
With just 15.8 seconds left in the middle frame and Montreal already holding a 4-0 lead, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara went to take Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty out along the boards. Pacioretty had already pushed the puck ahead when Chara finished the hit, which unfortunately came just as the pair slid into the boards in front of the partition between the benches.
Pacioretty was driven head first into the stanchion and he lay motionless on the ice for several minutes before being taken off on a stretcher and transported to a Montreal hospital.
“I know we were somewhere close to our bench, but obviously that wasn’t my intention to push into the post,” Chara said. “It’s very unfortunate. In that situation things happen fast. I wasn’t planning to do that. That’s not my style to hurt somebody. I always play hard, play physical, but I never try to hurt anybody so I’m hoping he’s OK.”
The Canadiens reported that Pacioretty was conscious and moving all of his extremities later Tuesday night. Chara was given a five-minute interference major and a game misconduct, and could face further supplemental discipline, though he hopes to avoid additional punishment.
“Obviously we have to wait, but I don’t see it,” Chara said of the possibility of being suspended. “I mean, it’s very unfortunate. It just a thing that happened and it does happen in the game. What else can I say? It just happened that he got hit right in the head from that glass extension.”
One factor that could be working against Chara is the past history between the players. Pacioretty triggered a minor scrum at the end of the Bruins’ last visit to Montreal when he shoved Chara after scoring the game-winner in overtime on Jan. 8.
Pacioretty was also in the middle of several altercations during last month’s fight-filled game at the Garden. He attacked former University of Michigan teammate Steven Kampfer in one melee, which brought Chara in to try to get at Pacioretty again. Adam McQuaid also went after Pacioretty in the final minute of a game that produced 182 penalty minutes and 12 fighting majors.
With that background, tensions were high and tempers short from the opening faceoff in this rematch. Johnny Boychuk and Ryan White engaged in a lengthy and spirited scrap just 3:11 into the first after Boychuk tried to line up P.K. Subban for an open-ice hit.
The hits continued but things stayed relatively calm after that until Chara’s hit, which came with 15.8 seconds left in the second. The officials called the period at that point, playing those final seconds before the start of the third after Pacioretty had been taken off and the ice resurfaced. The break, and the severity of the injury, seemed to diffuse the tensions a bit and the third period was played without incident other than a brief shoving match that put Milan Lucic in the box for roughing with less than three minutes remaining.
Now it’s a matter of whether Chara will sit out more than just Tuesday’s final period. Bruins coach Claude Julien supported his captain after the game.
“I think what people have to understand is Zdeno is not a dirty player,” Julien said. “Certainly he never meant for that to happen. If anything he tried to rub him out in the boards and unfortunately it’s the partition that did the damage. If it’s anywhere else on the ice it’s a might be a normal interference call at worst.
“You don’t come in here, rivalry or not, and wish that on anybody,” Julien added. “I think our guys were supportive when they were able to get [Pacioretty] off the ice and we all hope he does well.”
As for the game itself, that was already very ugly long before Chara’s questionable hit. The Bruins fell behind 2-0 in the first after defensive breakdowns allowed Lars Eller to score a pair of goals.
“I think what really hurt us was in the first period we gave them those first two goals,” Julien said. “They didn’t really have to work very hard to get them. A loose puck and we let them get there and bang it in and the second one we left a guy behind our two D all alone by himself with our goaltender. Those are the kind of things that will hurt your hockey club in a big hockey game like this.”
Montreal added power-play strikes by Brian Gionta and James Wisniewski in the second, while Boston’s power play remained dormant. The Bruins were 0-for-4 with the man-advantage, stretching their futility to an 0-for-16 stretch in the last seven games. They’re also now just 1-for-21 on the power play since Tomas Kaberle joined the team with the goal of improving that unit.
“We had a chance to get back in the hockey game with our power play and that still didn’t contribute,” said Julien, whose club is now just three points ahead of Montreal in the Northeast Division. “That’s an area that we understand has to get better.”
After Tuesday, there’s a lot of things that have to get better as the Bruins try to regain the form that help them win seven straight just a short while ago. And they’ll soon find out if they have to do that without Chara for any length of time.