Before the puck even dropped last night, Marco Sturm knew one of his top priorities was to steer clear of the penalty box and prevent Montreal's top-ranked power play from working its magic.
But before the first 20 minutes ticked off the clock, Sturm had visited the box twice.
First, he elbowed No. 2 center Tomas Plekanec at 9:22 of the first period. Less than five minutes later, Sturm tangled with Plekanec again, this time holding Plekanec to slow down an odd-man rush.
"I didn't look at the puck," said Sturm of his hit that led to the elbowing call. "Just tried to hit him. Stuff like that, I just have to be smarter."
Sturm's elbowing penalty led to a power-play goal by Plekanec, the first of two man-advantage strikes the Canadiens tallied en route to a 5-2 win over the Bruins before a sellout crowd of 17,565 at TD Banknorth Garden. It was Boston's fifth loss in five games against Montreal.
"Our No. 1 priority for tonight's game was to stay out of the penalty box," said coach Claude Julien. "Keep our emotions in check, play hard, compete hard. Somehow we got ourselves in trouble in the first period by taking some bad penalties."
Two of Montreal's first three goals came on the power play. Aaron Ward, returning from an eight-game absence, notched Boston's first goal in the second period. Milan Lucic got the Bruins within one with a third-period score at 2:01, but a backbreaker by Mathieu Dandenault - the fourth-line plugger, after controlling a dump-in, wheeled around Mark Stuart and tapped a soft-moving backhander between Tim Thomas's pads - snuffed out Boston's rally. Dandenault added a goal with 1:11 remaining.
"We battled back," said Julien. "We got ourselves back into the game. Then afterwards, the bad goal took the wind out of us."
It was a game the Bruins, 4 points behind the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference heading into the game, needed. On Wednesday, a day after a 1-0 dud against Carolina, Julien ran his players through a 30-minute sprint session without pucks at Ristuccia Arena, sending the message that hard work was expected and required.
"Just the fact that this is a team that's 4 points ahead of us and it's a divisional game - they always mean a lot," Julien said before the game. "We've given them 8 points and we've gotten none out of it. So I think it's about time our team reacted."
Last night, Julien noted that he saw improvement in the effort department. The third line of Lucic, David Krejci, and Peter Schaefer was especially effective, creating Boston's second goal and cycling effectively early in the game.
But perhaps it was too much energy and not enough brainwork that led to Montreal's three straight goals to open the game.
"Everyone was ready. Everyone worked hard," said Sturm. "But we tried to do too much and we took some stupid penalties. I took a bad one, too. It was too much. Too aggressive. We tried to settle it down. We tried. We just have to keep our emotions under control."
Only 1:59 into the game, Chuck Kobasew was whistled for boarding. After Sturm was nabbed for his two penalties, the Bruins were called for a fourth when Marc Savard was caught holding at 17:07.
"We were ready to play," said Zdeno Chara. "We were all fired up. Sometimes tensions are good. But you overskate and probably feel too strong. It happens."
The penalties allowed Montreal's power play (24.9 percent efficiency rate entering last night) too many opportunities to shine. On the Canadiens' first power-play goal, point man Andrei Markov rotated down to the far post, forcing the Bruins to cut off the passing lane.
Plekanec, stickhandling on the opposite wing, spotted Markov and attempted a cross-crease pass. Chara filled the passing lane, but the puck deflected off his stick and past Thomas at 10:36.
After Maxim Lapierre scored 54 seconds later - the forward outraced a backchecking Lucic to jam in the rebound of Christopher Higgins's shot - Montreal went on the power play again when Shawn Thornton was given an extra two minutes for roughing at 11:48 of the second period.
This time, power-play specialist Mark Streit whistled a cross-ice pass through Boston's four-man box to Alex Kovalev at the right circle. The sharpshooter settled the puck, loaded his wrists, and snapped a sizzler past Thomas at 13:18.
"They're a highly skilled hockey club," Julien said. "Let's not pretend that they're not. When they get a chance to showcase their skill, they do."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.