The Canadiens celebrate after David Desharnais (51) scored the game-winning goal Sunday night in Boston.
With first place on the line, the Canadiens, who were supposed to be struggling through a rebuilding season, came into the Garden and gave the Bruins all they could handle in one of the most physical games the Black and Gold have played this year. With 2011 champs Tomas Kaberle and Michael Ryder back in town for the 889th meeting between the two teams and the Canadiens playing a Sunday night game in Boston for the first time in almost 28 years, it was the Habs who would come out victorious thanks to a questionable decision by one of the Bruins’ leaders.
After Alexei Emelin took a pretty cheap shot on Tyler Seguin in the neutral zone with a cross-check to the ribs, Zdeno Chara hunted him down deep in the Montreal zone and incited the 219-pound defenseman to drop the gloves. Chara won the bout, but it was the Canadiens who came out in better shape as Chara was sent to the room, racking up 17 minutes in penalty time. With Chara off the ice, the Bruins, who held a 3-2 lead at the time, couldn’t hold off the much-improved Habs, who tied the game and took the lead in a span of 3:14 in the first half of the third period while the big man was still in the box.
The tying goal was scored by Max Pacioretty, who has also been on the wrong side of a Chara manhandling, at 5:31 of the third period. With David Desharnais screening Tuukka Rask, Pacioretty collected the puck at the top of the slot just inside the blue line and laced a wrister into the top half of the net to tie the game at three.
Four minutes later, with Chara still in the box, Desharnais scooped up an idle puck in the crease and flipped it over the pile in front of the net that included three Bruins skaters and no goalie as Rask had hit the ice to the side of the goal and could not recover. Pacioretty poked the puck toward the slot amid the chaos and no one in black could find it before Desharnais capitalized with his second goal of the night and the game-winner. The goal gave the Habs a 4-3 lead, which they held on to win by, and sent No. 76 in white jumping onto the pile like his team had just won the Stanley Cup. That’s all I’ll say about that.
“Obviously we have to protect each other. He’s one of our better players. I’ll do it for anybody,” said Chara after the team’s first loss in over two weeks. “In that situation, it was just nature for me to react that way.”
“We’re known as a team that sticks up for each other,” added Brad Marchand, who had a career-high three assists as he figured in all three Bruins’ goals on the night. You just have to wonder if Chara maybe should have waited to settle the score until a more appropriate time. There’s a reason why he hardly ever fights.
“If the referees aren’t [going to] call it, we [have to] do what we [have to] do here. I support that. We’re a team that responds to those kinds of things,” said Claude Julien, who didn’t seem to have too big of a problem with his captain acting the way he did.
While the Chara penalties ended up being the difference, there were five other goals in the game, including three in a span of 1:06 to kick off the scoring in the first. Lars Eller hit a post just over a minute in and Montreal kept up the pressure, resulting in the first goal of the game eight minutes later following a couple hit posts of their own by the Bruins.
With Andrew Ference in the box for interference, Montreal’s 11th-ranked power play went to work. Ryder found the open man, Tomas Plekanec, in the slot and he fanned on his shot attempt, but the slowness fooled Rask, who couldn’t prevent the puck from sneaking through his five-hole. The middle of the ice was open because Chara was finishing a check on the opposite wall and couldn’t get back in time to cover his man and Montreal took a 1-0 lead 9:57 into the game. After allowing just three power-play goals in their first 16 games of the season, Boston has given up four in their last three contests.
Johnny Boychuk asserts his presence during the first period.
The B’s would come right back, however, as Seguin tied it up jut 50 seconds later off of a perfectly executed faceoff win in the offensive zone following a Montreal icing. Patrice Bergeron, who was 13-of-19 on the night (68.4%), actually lost the draw, but Marchand won the battle for the puck down low and fed Bergeron out front, who, in the blink of an eye, got the puck to the goal scorer. Seguin got free in front of the net and tipped it in past Peter Budaj for his fifth goal of the year. Carey Price was relieved of his duties after allowing seven goals to the Penguins on Saturday night.
The tie wouldn’t last long and just 16 seconds later, the Habs would regain the lead. David Krejci turned the puck over deep in the Bruins zone and it ended up on the stick of Desharnais, who made a blind, spinning pass to the front of the net. The puck bounced in off Johnny Boychuk‘s stick and after originally being credited to Pacioretty, the goal was given to Desharnais – his sixth of the year. Momentum seemed to be in favor of Boston, but this extremely quick answer returned it to the Canadiens.
A late Montreal penalty on Brendan Gallagher for charging gave the Bruins a chance, but Seguin couldn’t get a shot off from the circle quickly enough in the same way he scored against Tampa Bay on Saturday. As the seconds ticked off the clock, the Bruins couldn’t get a look they liked and time ran out with the score 2-1 in favor of the Canadiens after the first.
Two quick Bruins strikes to open the second period looked to change the course of the game, but ultimately just gave the Habs a chance at a come-from-behind win. Bergeron got credit for the first one after another two-on-one with Marchand resulted in the puck getting pushed across the line by Budaj. Seguin’s speed in transition set up the fifth of the year for Bergeron.
After Bergeron was robbed on the doorstep and Chris Kelly hit the fourth post of the night, Dougie Hamilton pulled off his best Steven Stamkos impersonation, one-timing a bouncing puck in from a tough angle to give the Bruins their first lead of the night, 3-2. Marchand’s centering pass hit something and bounced to the rookie, who took an opportune swipe at the puck and beat Budaj to light the lamp. The second line of Marchand, Bergeron and Seguin was great on the night, as they finished a collective plus-8 for the game.
Then, things began to get physical with Milan Lucic taking on the league-leader in penalty minutes, Brandon Prust, for the third time in his career – the most times he has fought any one player. He would win. Then, the game changed shortly after when Chara hunted Emelin down and was lost for 17 minutes. Seguin would return shortly after suffering the effects of a cheap cross-check to the ribs, but for just the second time this season, the Bruins lost a game in which they picked up a fighting major (7-2-1).
Milan Lucic landed a few blows during this second-period bout with Montreal’s Brandon Prust.
While they survived the rest of the second, Boston couldn’t hold off their rivals from the north forever as they were forced to begin the third with both Lucic and Chara in the box. The Canadiens had incited the B’s to take penalties and taken advantage of Chara not being on the ice.
“It’s not really a good feeling in the room right now,” said Hamilton following the game.
Rask surrendered a season-high four goals and the Bruins couldn’t find the same late-game magic that they dug for against the Rangers.
Montreal was able to sustain a bunch of late pressure from the B’s, including a kick save from Budaj on Nathan Horton with just over four to play and Seguin getting robbed with under five seconds left and the goalie pulled.
“We definitely had some good chances. I thought we did a good job offensively…should have done a tighter job in our zone,” said Bergeron. “[We] couldn’t find a way to get that fourth goal.”
While the entertainment was there, the Habs took advantage of some quick strikes to come out of this heated division game between two bitter rivals with two points. They extended their points streak to 11 with their 31st and 32nd points of the season to regain the conference and division lead from the Bruins. Boston fell to 14-3-2 with their first loss since Feb. 15 and first regulation loss at home since Jan. 31. It was also the first time they allowed more than two goals since Feb. 15. The two teams will meet again on March 27 at the Garden.
The last six games in the series between the Bruins and Canadiens have all been decided by one goal and Montreal beat the B’s for the first time since taking both games of a home-and-home on Oct. 27 and 29 of last season. Budaj has won three straight, though he had not started a game since Feb. 18 against the Hurricanes.
Montreal registered just four shots on goal in the third period, but two of them found the back of the net. Rask fell to 2-9 in his career against the Canadiens.
The B’s are back in action on Tuesday night in Washington for their first meeting with the Capitals since they knocked them out of the playoffs last April. Montreal will head to Long Island to take on the Islanders on Tuesday night as well.
The three stars of the game were Desharnais, Bergeron and Seguin.
March 27. Mark your calendars.
Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.