Making a habit of winning
Bruins on top of their game against nemesis
MONTREAL - This Bruins' season is different in many ways - look to the top of the Eastern Conference standings for proof of that - and they left here late yesterday afternoon with yet another reason to think, vive la differénce in 2008-09.
The Bruins didn't outright humble the Canadiens in their 3-1 victory at the Bell Centre, in front of a sellout 21,273, but they did manage to keep their long-time nemesis frustrated and tied in knots, even after the Habs moved to a brief 1-0 lead in the first period. Overall, the Bruins executed best at killing penalties, snuffing out six of seven Montreal advantages, and received superior goaltending, with Tim Thomas (27 stops) outdueling phenom Carey Price (20 stops) en route to his 22d win of the season.
"Everyone came to play," said Bruins winger Shawn Thornton, who potted the winner with his fifth goal of the season, breaking a 1-1 deadlock in the middle period. "A heated rivalry as always. These are fun games to play, fun games to watch . . . playing in a loud barn . . . this is the reason you lace 'em up."
When the day was done, the losses piled higher for the Habs than just the loss of two points. To wit:
All in all, far from the typical Bruins visit to this city, where historically they have not been able to say they get the better of things. They left with a win. They left with their roster intact. They left with the Habs looking as if their season could come apart at their blue, blanc et rouge seams.
"I thought we handled it well," said Boston coach Claude Julien, who began his NHL coaching career behind the CH bench. "Unfortunately we took some bad penalties, and you don't want to do that in these games, but our penalty-killing allowed us to stay in the game, and we were able to take advantage on a couple of goals."
The key turning point could have come for the Habs at 10:50 of the second period, less than three minutes after Thornton potted a Bitz feed for the 2-1 lead. The Habs were on a power play (Boston caught with a rare too-many-men-on-the-ice infraction) when Marc Savard hauled down Saku Koivu in the neutral zone. Result: a five-on-three Habs power play for 1:06.
"I must be a pretty strong guy to bring him down like that," said Savard. "That was a bit of a flop on his part. But . . . I should have been more careful at that point of the game."
Not only did the Habs fail to score on the two-man edge, they barely could set up shop in the Boston end. They looked disjointed, out of synch.
Owners of the NHL's No. 1 power play last year, the Habs are ranked 21st this season, cashing in only 16.7 percent of the time. Their only score vs. Boston was Lang's power-play strike at 18:18 of the first, for the 1-0 lead, but Dennis Wideman wiped that off the board at 19:59 when he cut off a Mike Komisarek pass and potted a 35-foot wrister.
"A good game for us, defensively," said Wideman. "I thought this was a good carryover for us from the Ranger game [a 1-0 win on Saturday]. We tightened up as a group and we kept that going here."
Lang's strike came on a sizzling wrister that he snapped off from the dot in the left circle, all of 26 seconds after Aaron Ward was sent to the penalty box on an tripping call. The Bruins knotted it with each side with a man in the penalty box. Alertly patrolling the high offensive zone, Wideman picked off Komisarek's relay and snapped in a high wrister that Price lost in a crowd. The shot beat the goalie high to the stick side, about two-thirds of the way up the left post.
The Thornton winner came off a tough-angle forehander, the winger set up along the goal line with a Bitz feed. And the closer came from Savard, who nailed an empty-netter from center ice, along the right wing wall, after P.J. Axelsson forced puck carrier Andrei Kostitsyn directly into Savard's lane.
The Bruins, 0-7-0-1 in the regular season against Montreal last season, are 4-0-0-1 against the Habs this season.
"Last year against Montreal, going into the playoffs we were thinking, 'Oh, man, this is going to be tough,' " said Thomas. "But we thought we came close to winning that series, and this year that has led to a whole different attitude."
Yes, times change. Vive la différence.