By Luke Coughlan/DFP Staff
In a battle to avoid the last spot in the Northeast Division, the Montreal Canadiens upstaged the Boston Bruins, 2-1, behind the stellar play of goalie Carey Price on Thursday night at the Garden. The Bruins (2-5-0) dropped to the cellar of both the division and the Eastern Conference with the loss to the Canadiens (2-3-2) combined with a Winnipeg Jets win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
“I don’t know if I imagined [being in last place one month into the season],” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said. “I’d probably get nightmares thinking about how we’re playing right now more than anything else. It’s more about our team right now.
Following a pattern that has plagued them through their first seven games, the Bruins opened the game with plenty of pressure, registering 10 shots to the Canadiens’ six in the first period, but cooled off after gaining the lead.
At 14:04, Habs center Petteri Nokelainen was whistled for interference after a lengthy Bruins offensive possession. On the ensuing play to Price’s right, Bruins center Patrice Bergeron lost the faceoff to Plekanec who directed the puck behind him, hoping to get it back to a teammate for an easy clear to open the penalty kill. The puck went back to Price, however, and he misplayed the puck as it slipped past his stick, through his legs and into the bottom-left corner of the net to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
Bergeron was credited with his second goal of the year, and he never had to touch the puck.
“I just Bill Bucknered it,” Price said. “Just a mental lapse, for sure. I didn’t want that to be the winning goal. Our guys did good to get it back and they bailed me out.”
“It just got stuck in there,” Plekanec said. “It was an unlucky goal. You don’t see it that often, but we got through it. We won the game, so that’s all that matters.”
After weathering the Bruins’ offensive storm in the first period, the Habs stepped on the gas in the second. At the 10:27 mark, left winger Erik Cole redirected a slap shot from defenseman Jaroslav Spacek past Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, tying the game.
Three minutes later, Bruins forward Brad Marchand and Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban began what would turn out to be a trilogy of encounters. After holding each other in preparation for a fight at 13:47, the officials stepped between them and sent them both to the box with matching minors, much to the Garden crowd’s dismay.
Immediately after the penalties were over, the two dropped their gloves again but were separated by the officials a second time, this time sent to the penalty box for a delay of game.
In defiant fashion, the pair went at it again immediately after exiting their respective sin bins, and this time, the refs stood back. With the crowd as loud as it had been all night to that point, the two circled one another and finally came together when Subban missed on an initial hay-maker that Marchand astutely dodged.
Marchand engaged with Subban and waited for him to stand up before the pair traded punches back and forth. Subban missed a few more times and in the end, the two called it quits before either player was on the ground.
“It all started off the draw,” Marchand said. “He kind of gave me a little shot with his elbow and then I grabbed him and he grabbed me and I thought he wanted to then, so I dropped my gloves. When we were in the box [after being called for holding], he asked me to go and I said ‘no.’ Then when we were back in the second time he asked me again and I couldn’t say no so it was nice to get it out of the way.”
With score settled and the crowd on its feet on the ensuing Bruins power play — defenseman Josh Gorges was whistled for holding at the same time as the fight — it seemed a perfect time for the Bruins to break through offensively.
However, Price continued to find the puck, and defenseman Raphael Diaz made a sliding save to keep the score knotted at one apiece.
In the third, sloppy passing allowed the Canadiens to maintain offensive pressure, and when defenseman Adam McQuaid was unable to connect with Bergeron on an outlet pass from the defensive end, Plekanec redeemed himself by picking up the loose puck, streaking down the right slot and wristing the puck past Thomas stick-side to give Montreal a 2-1 lead.
“I was looking, trying to hit [Bergeron] up the middle there,” McQuaid said. “I passed a little too far in front of him and they made a quick transition. So bad pass on my part.”
With Thomas pulled for an extra attacker in the game’s final minutes, Price made the last of his 29 saves and wrapped up the victory for the Canadiens. While Thomas made 33 saves for the home team and was the centerpiece of a strong defensive effort, it was little comfort to Julien, whose team has fallen to 25th in the league in goals per game with 2.11.
“We can sit here and look at those [missed opportunities] and think it’s great,” he said. “But when you really look at the game itself, our team is not playing the way it should be or can play through the whole 60 minutes. I need to look further than just missed opportunities.
“Unfortunately, we’re not sitting here looking at one or two players you can move around. You’re looking at the majority of the team. That’s where the issue is, and this is what we have to find a way to correct.”