BOSTON — The Boston Bruins have a Montreal Canadiens problem, and it has a lot more to do with than just the little bit of extra agitation that comes with playing their longtime rivals.
The Habs ran all over the B’s on Thursday night in the two clubs’ second meeting of the season, as Montreal cruised to an easy 4-1 win at TD Garden. The win marked the fifth straight for the Canadiens over the Bruins, and this was by far the ugliest of that lot for the Black and Gold.
It was quite a way to see a four-game winning streak in which the Bruins had outscored their opponents 21-8 come to a crashing halt.
Boston was absolutely outplayed from the very beginning. The Canadiens took the game to their opponent, and Michel Therien’s club once again used its team speed to counteract the bigger and stronger Bruins. Montreal once again put the Bruins on their heels, which forced the Bruins into bad decisions.
The most concerning part for Bruins coach Claude Julien and his team, however, is how they just let the Canadiens stomp all over them. The Bruins gave one of their worst showings of the season — Patrice Bergeron called it the “worst game of the year” — and just handed the game to Montreal.
“There was three things,” a clearly agitated Julien said after the game. “We didn’t skate well tonight, we didn’t make good decisions and we didn’t execute well. When you’ve got none of those three things, you’re not going to win too many hockey games.”
The issues in the skating game were evident early. The Bruins lacked the sort of jump that most teams should show against a hated rival. Instead, they looked like they were skating in quicksand. Boston was playing its third game in four nights, which may have also played a role in the lethargic play, but seeing the CH sweater on the other side of the ice should have taken care of that.
“It’s unfortunate that we come out with that kind of effort against this team once again,” Bruins winger Milan Lucic said. “It’s one of those ones where you’ve gotta suck it up and call a spade a spade. It wasn’t good enough from an emotional standpoint and from a determination standpoint. You’ve just gotta get better from games like this.”
The poor decisions and flaws in execution were evident, too. There were specific instances, like Brad Marchand’s unnecessary cross-check to Brendan Gallagher as a breakaway ended. Marchand got a double-minor out of the play and ensuing scrum, and the Canadiens scored 11 seconds into the power play. But it was also just an overall air of carelessness that doomed the Bruins in all three zones. Their breakouts weren’t particularly sharp, and their offensive zone entries were a train wreck for most of the night. The B’s hardly got pucks in deep and by the time the deficit reached three, Boston had just started settling for shots from just inside the Montreal blue line.
Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask was sharp in the first period despite giving up a goal, but it could have been much worse. Thursday was not a night that Rask would stand on his head and save the day, though, as the goalie allowed two second-period goals before getting the hook from Julien for the fourth time this season.
Rask’s numbers against most of the league are incredible, but against the Habs, he’s been an average goaltender at best. He’s now 2-10-2 for his career against Montreal with a save percentage that dipped below .900 after Thursday’s outing.
The team’s struggles against Montreal are far from just Rask’s fault, though. The Bruins’ five-game losing streak against their rivals appears to indicate that there’s something in the matchup that doesn’t really work out for Boston. It could be Montreal’s team speed, which is one area that can give the Bruins fits, which is something the first-round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs exposed.
Whatever the reason or reasons, the frustration is mounting.
“Usually we have found a way to rise to the occasion against these guys,” Lucic said. “But for some reason the last four times we’ve played them, maybe we get too caught up in the rivalry or our emotions kind of get the better of us to where we’re almost stuck in the headlights like we were tonight. We need to find a way to turn it around against these guys and hopefully we can do that sooner than later.”
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) for the Bruins, they’ll have to wait until March 12 to get another shot at the Canadiens. Even then, there’s a good chance this stinker is still on their mind.