MONTREAL - As exhilarating as hockey has been lately for the Bruins, who swaggered into the Bell Centre last night riding a four-game winning streak, they learned the hard way that fortunes can change and turn this sport into heartache.
"It's a very humbling game," said coach Claude Julien after the Canadiens bashed the Bruins, 6-1, before 21,273. "Just when you think you're on top, you realize you can come back down to earth pretty quick."
The Bruins, playing their first Northeast Division game, flopped with a thud. Of the six goals Montreal poured past Manny Fernandez, two were a result of odd-man rushes, two came off defensive-zone faceoff losses, and another two via the power play - hardly the way you want to play against a team that will be sniffing for blood seven more times this season.
"I guess it was a laundry list that led to their goals," said Andrew Ference.
On the other end, Cristobal Huet recorded 31 saves, none better than the first-period theft he made of a Glen Murray attempt. With the game still scoreless, P.J. Axelsson stripped defenseman Patrice Brisebois in the neutral zone, springing Glen Metropolit for an odd-man rush.
Metropolit, skating down the left wing with Murray filling the right lane, sent a wrister on goal that caught Huet in the shoulder. Murray was there for the rebound, but Huet slid from right to left and stuffed the winger's shot with his left pad at 9:12. It was one of the few quality second chances the Bruins had all night.
The Canadiens scored their first two goals - a first-period strike by top-line wing Christopher Higgins and a second-period slapper by dangerous Alexei Kovalev - after winning faceoffs against Marc Savard in the Boston zone.
After Kovalev's goal at 6:28 of the second period, the Bruins appeared to come unglued, rushing to kick off a rally. During one play in the Montreal zone, Zdeno Chara, manning the left side of the defense, pinched to keep the attack going. But the puck rolled under his stick, allowing the Canadiens to break out for an odd-man rush.
Fourth-line forward Tom Kostopoulos lugged the puck into the Boston zone, waited for Aaron Ward to hit the deck, and flipped a pass in front to linemate Steve Begin, who tapped one past Fernandez for his first goal of the season at 17:48 of the second period. Chara and Ward were two of four Bruins (along with Savard and Peter Schaefer) to be saddled with a minus-3 rating.
"I think we just lost our composure," Julien said. "Most of the time, that doesn't make things better. It makes things worse. That's a situation where we have to understand that we can't do that. You've got to climb back into the game slowly. When you're taking chances, 99 percent of the time it's going to cost you more than help."
Late in the period, Chara lost his head even more. After Mike Komisarek dumped Marco Sturm along the boards, Chara retaliated, cross-checking the rugged defenseman and drawing a two-minute penalty at 19:48. Minutes before, Shawn Thornton had tried unsuccessfully to goad Komisarek into a fight.
With Chara in the box to start the third, the Canadiens kept on rolling. Brisebois went down low, taking a pass from center Tomas Plekanec to beat Fernandez at 1:45. Dennis Wideman countered with Boston's lone goal, winging a power-play strike past Huet at 6:41 for his first score of the season, but the Canadiens broke out for another odd-man rush.
After a Boston turnover, former Bruin Bryan Smolinski kicked off the attack, spotting rookie Mikhail Grabovski for a tap-in at 9:34. Then with Chuck Kobasew serving a holding penalty, defenseman Andrei Markov became the sixth Canadien to score, wheeling around a diving Ference and cranking a close-range shot through Fernandez at 12:39.
"Sums up the beginning of my season," said Fernandez (14 saves), hung out to dry by his teammates. "Not a lot of shots, but the shots that get through seem to be bang-bang plays. I think I'm in position but they get through anyways. It's tough mentally to swallow. I think I need to relax a little bit, let go a little bit in order to get back in the right frame of mind."