Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins @ Bell Centre – February 15, 2012

Before their tilt on Wednesday night the Boston Bruins were 15 points ahead of the Montreal Canadiens.  That really doesn’t play into it much when it comes to these two teams.  Throughout the long history of their confrontations it doesn’t matter where they are in regards to each other in the standings as they always brings out the best in the other.  Many of their games have been legendary.  While I would not go so far as to say that the most recent game was one for the ages, it certainly was an intense and emotional one.

This was the last of the 6 games between the two teams this season.  Going in Boston was leading 3-2 and had won the last 3.  The Bruins are defending Stanley Cup champions and once again one of the better teams in the league.  In today’s era of parity between teams every team goes through a difficult patch and the Bruins have hit that bump in road now.  Boston was playing its second game in two nights.  The previous night they had dominated the New York Rangers, but came up on the short side of a 3-0 score.  Ever since their visit to the White House they are 3-5-0 and 3 of the 5 losses have been by shutout.  L’affaire Thomas?  Based on the leadership in that dressing room, I don’t think so, but it is food for thought.

The Habs were having a busy week as well with 4 games (the first being the miserable 5-3 loss to Carolina on Monday) in 7 days.  It is an important week for the bleu-blanc-rouge and demanding of them that they play playoff style hockey as they are playing for their playoff participation lives.

The game would see the battle of the number one goaltenders with Carey Price in nets for the Canadiens and Tim Thomas in for the Bruins.  Nathan Horton was still out of the Bruins line up due to post concussion symptoms while Ryan White made his season debut for the home side.  White had off season surgery for a sports hernia and had only now just recovered.  After a short rehab stint with Hamilton, he was called back up to the big club and inserted in the line up on the 4th line with Scott Gomez and Andrei Kostitsyn.  Winger Aaron Palusaj was sent back down to Hamilton.  Travis Moen (suspected concussion) and Yannick Weber were out due to injuries.

A robust tone was set for the game early on with several big bodychecks being doled out.  And surprise, surprise it was the Habs doing the hitting for a change.  Lars Eller leveled Scott Thornton.  Alexei Emelin hit Thornton. Rene Bourque crunched Dennis Seidenberg. Josh Gorges hit Brad Marchand.  Andrei Kostitsyn pasted Chris Kelly.  The aggressive play by the Canadiens went on the whole game with them enjoying a 27-16 advantage in the hits department.  Too bad that did not translate to the scoreboard.

Coach Randy Cunneyworth’s most recent whipping boys Kostitsyn and Gomez were not only dressed, but given more of an opportunity (minuteswise) to contribute.  He even gave them some time on the second wave of the power play.  Their fate was in their own hands.  While neither of the two scored (or even managed a point) they did contribute by playing a solid game.  Though I would still like to see a little more intensity from AK46.  Kostitsyn, a goal scorer, has not scored against Boston in 16 games.  Their linemate Ryan White seemed really amped up to play as you would expect. He had a good scoring chance on his first shift and took on the much larger Adam McQuaid in a 1st period fight.  White did what was expected of him now it is time (or is it past time?) for Kostitsyn and Gomez to contribute what is expected of them.

This was a rare evening where every player in red played well.  Now, some of you might argue that Campoli (who was totally undressed by Pouliot on the Bruins’ 2nd goal) was not strong.  One play does not a game make.  Yes, he is not great defensively.  We know that.  Yes, he should have played the body on the play.  Agreed, that he is a player that should not be in the lineup.  Weber and Markov are hurt, so Campoli is what we have.  Deal with it.

Who did not have a strong game were the referees, Dean Morton and Steve Kozari.  First of all I have to say, “Who?”  Why would the league assign these two particular no names to ref a game between two Original Six teams with no love lost between them?  Seems to me like you were asking for trouble.  And trouble reared its ugly head in the form of some dubious penalties.  I understand that ever since Boston’s Milan Lucic ran Buffalo’s goaltender, Ryan Miller that officials have been instructed to clamp down on players hitting goalies.  That is all fine and dandy and I think most of us support that move, but you still have to use some discretion.  Not every contact with a goalie is a penalty.  There were a whopping four called in this game (three against Montreal and one against Boston) and, in my opinion, none of them were warranted.  Max Pacioretty, which was the closest to a penalty, tried to jump to avoid running into Thomas, Erik Cole had the puck and was just going to the net with Seidenberg draped all over him, Louis Leblanc was going for the puck and ran into Thomas, who was way out of his crease, as he turned around and Daniel Paille was pushed into Price by a Habs’ defenceman.  All these penalties threatened to ruin the flow of the game and to discourage players from going to the net where the majority of goals are scored from.

It was during a 4-on-4 stretch brought about by the Pacioretty penalty while Montreal was on a power play that Boston scored the game’s first goal.  At 17:09 of the 1st period Andrew Ference converted a nice Marchand set up.  The goal was a result of a bad turnover (are there any other kind?) behind his own net by Hal Gill. Price could do nothing as he was totally screened on the shot.

Things became even more complicated for the Habs when 50 seconds after the Boston goal Eller (who played a team low 5:48) was assessed a 4 minute penalty for high sticking.  The goal and the penalty broke the momentum that Montreal had gained so far in the game.  Thankfully Montreal’s penalty killing unit is still one of the best in the league and on this occasion it not only killed off the 4 minute penalty it chipped in with a goal.  PK Subban, who played one of his better all-around games of the season, broke up a Boston play, took  the puck all the way up the right wing boards then centered a perfect pass onto the stick of the onrushing Mathieu Darche, who just had to redirect it past Thomas.

The goal was his 3rd in 8 games.  Quite a streak for the plumber, who played what was probably his best game in the NHL. Darche has done wonders for the play of centreman Tomas Plekanec, chipped in some important goals and done yeoman’s work on the penalty kill.  He is not signed for next season and is playing for a contract.  Wants to stay in Montreal and is making it obvious through his effort. Maybe Kostitsyn can take some lessons from what Darche is doing?

The momentum was back with Montreal as they had some great chances on the shifts following the penalty kill and Darche’s goal.  And then out of nowhere really Benoit Pouliot deked Chris Campoli out of his jock strap and beat Price five-hole for a crowd quieting goal.  It was a nice individual effort by Pouliot and Campoli looked horrible.  Another interesting fact was that the hot-and-cold Pouliot hadn’t score for 15 games.

Then around the middle of the period three of the aforementioned goaltender interference penalties were assessed.  Two to Montreal and one to Boston.  This left Boston with a 4-on-3 advantage.  Now, Boston had not scored on a 4-on-3 advantage all season, but that changed with Patrice Bergeron sniping a wrist shot past Price from a sharp angle.  Plekanec, Gill and Gorges were out for the entire 4-on-3 and were exhausted.

Going down 3-1 going into the 3rd period in a game against a team who had not lost a 3rd period lead all season and where they had played well must have been discouraging.  As he has done for a large part of the season Erik Cole put the team on his back and got them back into the game.  Early in the period he got an assist on Max Pacioretty’s 24th goal of the season and then he scored one of his own just past halfway through the 3rd.  Cole’s goal was courtesy of a bad giveaway by Chara in his own end.  Cole was patient and outwaited Thomas then roofed a backhand into the empty cage.

After the Habs tied the game 3-3 the atmosphere was electric in the Bell Centre.  Ole, oles rained down from the rafters and then a round of “Go, Habs, Go!” started.  Montreal totally dominated in the 3rd period outshooting Boston 10-2.  Price was not busy at all.  Boston only chance was a doozy when a Ference wrist shot from the left point beat Price, but thankfully hit the post.

Overtime was dominated by Boston, but they didn’t score.  In the shootout it was a scenario that Habs’ fans have seen too many times this season.  Montreal cannot score with Bourque, Pacioretty and Eller all missing and Boston’s Tyler Seguin beating Price low to the blocker side with a quick shot.  Another loss.

Montreal was shoulder-to-shoulder with one of the best teams in the NHL on this evening.  Moral victories do not get you into the playoffs.  Good game, but they still could not come out of it with a win.  A hard earned point.  Still only 1 point instead of the much needed 2.

The Habs next game is Friday night in Buffalo against the Sabres.

Game Stats:

-On-Ice Officials:  Referees:  Steve Kozari and Dean Morton

Linesmen:  Andre Racicot and Steve Barton

-Goals:  1st Period:

17:09:  Boston – Andrew Ference assisted by Brad Marchand

2nd Period:

1:39:  Montreal – (sh) Mathieu Darche assisted by PK Subban

5:07:  Boston – Benoit Pouliot assisted by Chris Kelly and Rich Peverly

14:33:  Boston – (pp) Patrice Bergeron assisted by Tyler Seguin and Zdeno Chara

3rd Period:

3:34:  Montreal – Max Pacioretty assisted by David Desharnais and Erik Cole

11:12:  Montreal – Erik Cole unassisted

-Shots on Goal:  Montreal:  29

Boston:  34

-3 Stars:  1)  Tyler Seguin – Boston

2)  Erik Cole – Montreal

3)  Patrice Bergeron – Boston

-Attendance:  21,273

-Final Score:  Montreal:  3

Boston:  4 (Shootout)

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