They proved they could beat Montreal, and did it in emphatic fashion with a 7-0 rout at the Garden.
They did it without the extracurriculars that have dominated past meetings between the rivals.
They did it without abandoning the physical style they need to be successful, but still matching Montreal’s skill and speed in a game that featured 146 fewer penalty minutes than the clubs’ previous clash at the Garden.
And they did it with Tim Thomas putting together a perfect performance in net after so many prior struggles against the Canadiens, while also putting a dent in the aura of invincibility Montreal counterpart Carey Price may have been feeling against the Bruins.
“It was a big game,” Bruins right wing Nathan Horton said after scoring a pair of goals in the victory. “Our record against them in the past hasn’t been very good and we wanted to finish off strong. It was exactly as we pictured it.”
No doubt this was one of the Bruins’ biggest regular-season victories in recent memory. But was it enough to give the Bruins confidence they can do again four more times if they meet the Habs again in the playoffs?
“That’s the way we wish we could play every night,” Thomas said. “It should be a big confidence booster for us going forward, and it’s the blueprint of the type of game we want to play.”
And what was the game plan that made the Bruins so effective this time around?
“Get traffic in front of the net, get pucks to the net through traffic,” Thomas explained. “Move our feet, get the puck in deep so we can draw some penalties from the other team. We stayed out of the box for the most part, but the third period, we knew, this type of game, there’s going to be some calls. But that really was a complete, solid game.”
That it was. It was also just the third win in 12 tries against the Canadiens in the past two years. After going 1-3-2 against them last season, this year the Bruins had been 1-3-1 going into Thursday’s game. The lone when was a wild affair with a goalie fight, a line brawl and 182 penalty minutes. It also had 14 combined goals, with the Bruins surrendering six, four on eight power-play opportunities. So as fun as that one was for the fans, it certainly didn’t instill an overabundance of confidence.
Nor did the following meeting in Montreal. That’s best remembered for Zdeno Chara‘s controversial hit on Max Pacioretty, but the Bruins were already down 4-0 at the time of that incident and were completely outplayed in all facets of the game in a 4-1 loss.
So the Bruins needed to respond with a solid effort on Thursday, even as the hype surrounding the anticipated “retribution” for Chara’s hit dominated talk leading up to the contest. But the Bruins didn’t need to win another series of brawls, as entertaining as that may have been. They needed to prove they could win a straight-up hockey game.
“In the playoffs that kind of stuff doesn’t matter,” Bruins forward Gregory Campbell said. “It’s a hard physical game and there are rarely any fights. [The Canadiens] play hard. You can say whatever you want, that they are a small, skilled team, but they play hard and battle. It is important for us to use our size and what makes us successful. The way we compete and battle. We obviously hadn’t fared as well as we would have liked against them this year. With them being a probable opponent, it was nice for us to play as well as we did.”
Thursday’s win puts the Bruins in control in the quest for the Northeast Division title, as they now lead Montreal by five points with two games in hand. Winning the division will likely land Boston the No. 3 seed in the East. The reward for that will probably be another matchup with Montreal.
The Canadiens are currently in the sixth spot. They’re just two points behind No. 5 Tampa Bay, but the Lightning also have two games in hand against the Habs. The Rangers, who come to the Garden on Saturday, could catch Montreal from behind, as they are just two points back with an equal number of games to play, but a 33rd Boston-Montreal playoff encounter appears the most likely scenario.
The Bruins swept the Habs the last time they meet in the postseason in 2009, but Montreal has won 24 of the 32 playoff meetings overall. Did Thursday’s dominant performance alter the historic balance of power at all and put some doubt into the minds of the Canadiens?
“I don’t think we’re in their heads,” veteran forward Mark Recchi said. “No, I mean I think we played a great game [Thursday]. I think we showed what we’re capable of doing as a team against them. But playoffs, it’s all different stories. If we end up playing them it all starts over there. And I think they have a good team, they?re fast, they?re very skilled, but we have to play our game and we know that.”
The Bruins might not be in all the Habs’ heads, but they did seem to shake up Price a bit. He came in 13-3-2 all-time against Boston, but was driven from the game after giving up five goals in 44:29. Price has proven resilient in the past, overcoming past criticisms from the Montreal fans after the 2009 playoff loss and early this season after the Canadiens traded away playoff hero Jaroslav Halak.
But the Bruins now at least know they can beat him, and Thomas knows he can shut down Montreal’s talented offense. He came into the game with just a 9-14-4 record against Montreal, and his 4.28 GAA against the Canadiens this year was his worst mark against any opponent. That all changed with his 24-save shutout, the first time he’s ever blanked the Habs.
“It’s always nice to beat Montreal,” Thomas said. “Over the years, there’s been times with great success against them, and there’s been times where they’ve had more success against us. They’re chasing us for a playoff spot, and this being the last time we play them before the playoffs I believe, it’s a great win. I’m very happy with the way it turned out obviously.”
The Bruins have every reason to be pleased with their performance on Thursday. Now they just have to prove they can do it four more times if the rivals meet up again in the playoffs.
Do you think Thursday’s win will catapult the Bruins past the Canadiens in the playoffs, or does that matchup still worry you? Share your thoughts below.