Strong goaltending? Check.
Punishing hitting? Check.
Power play clicking? Check.
Discipline and passion? Check.
The Bruins started their playoff run in impressive fashion last night, beating the Montreal Canadiens, 3-0, at the FleetCenter in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
It was as strong a performance across the board as they had turned in all season, proving that when they're prepared to play, they rival the very best teams in the National Hockey League.
Their power play, which was underachieving and maddeningly inconsistent much of the year, came through twice on six chances. Goaltender Andrew Raycroft, a rookie at 23, demonstrated why general manager Mike O'Connell described him as the least of Boston's worries heading into the postseason. Raycroft, who made 31 saves, became the first Bruins goalie to record a shutout in his postseason debut since Tiny Thompson in 1929.
The Bruins got a huge boost with the return of captain Joe Thornton, who had missed two games because of an upper-body injury.
"I told our players after the first period that might not only have been our best first period all year -- it might have been our best period all year," said coach Mike Sullivan. "I thought we came out with a lot of energy, I thought we made great decisions with the puck, and I thought we played a real hard, smart period."
Before the series was even a period old, the Bruins were riding a 2-0 lead. The first goal came at 5:12 on the power play and the three players who combined on it were not with the team at the start of the year -- defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Jiri Slegr and center Michael Nylander. With Montreal forward Alexei Kovalev off for slashing P.J. Axelsson, Slegr gave the puck to Nylander, who relayed it to Gonchar in the high slot. Gonchar's quick wrister beat goaltender Jose Theodore to the stick side for his first postseason tally since April 21, 2001, when he was playing for the Washington Capitals against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With 59 seconds left, the Bruins made it a two-goal cushion. Sergei Samsonov had the puck and dished it to Gonchar. Gonchar saw Nylander wide open at the right post and dished a hard pass, which Nylander tipped under the crossbar at 19:01.
"I had the puck in the middle and I knew the goalie was concentrating on me," said Gonchar. "So I just tried to pass to Michael and he was there wide open."
The Bruins, who outshot the Canadiens, 23-9, in the first period, put it away in the second. It appeared Boston had scored its third goal with four minutes remaining. Mike Knuble beat Theodore on a rebound from outside the left post, putting the puck through his pads. The puck trickled through and rolled along the goal line. It was initially waved off, but at 16:12, when play stopped, it was reviewed upstairs by replay officials Dave Newell, the supervisor, and video goal judge Chuck Napoli. It was ruled no goal.
"[The officials] were asking me right after when they stopped play if it had gone in," said Knuble. "Probably deep down I knew it didn't, but I wanted to make sure. He was going upstairs anyway. It would've been nice to go in."
Knuble got his lost goal back not long after that. Former Bruin defenseman Stephane Quintal was whistled off for roughing Marty Lapointe, who had a monster game, at 17:15, and Boston cashed in. Samsonov gave the puck to rookie Patrice Bergeron, who was positioned to Theodore's right. Bergeron took a shot, got his own rebound, slid the puck behind the netminder and backhanded it into the crease. Knuble slammed it home at 18:24.
"To go from a two-goal lead to a three-goal lead was big tonight, especially late in the period." said Knuble, "It kind of took the wind out of their sails."
Knuble said there's a sense of satisfaction at starting off well, but there's a long way to go.
"It's only one game," he said. "But we're thrilled. The crowd was into it and everyone was into it tonight."