What we learned: Bruins separate themselves from Canadiens
What a difference 18 days makes.
More than two weeks removed from one of their worst performances of the season at the Winter Classic — coming at one of the worst possible times — the Boston Bruins got a measure of revenge on the Montreal Canadiens in the first game since the New Year’s Day debacle on Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.
Led by a tremendous performance from Tuukka Rask and contributions from all four lines, the Black and Gold, who sit in the first wild card spot, earned a 4-1 victory and extended their lead to three points on their rivals from up north. Here are a few things that we learned from the final meeting of the regular season between the Bruins and Habs.
Rask steals the show, again, at the Bell Centre
For all his career struggles against the Habs, Rask has fared fairly well at the Bell Centre over his seven-year NHL career. He entered Tuesday’s contest with a 2.20 goals against average and .924 save percentage to go along with his one career shutout at the home of the Habs.
Following his last Bell Centre outing, which he singlehandedly stole the show with 32 saves, Rask was stellar again stopping 38 shots — none bigger than stoning Torrey Mitchell on a breakaway in the middle stanza to keep the game tied at 1-1 — for his second victory in Montreal this season.
With one former Vezina winner out of the lineup (see below), and with crucial points up for grabs, the Bruins needed another strong performance from Rask away from TD Garden. They got just that.
Another solid return for David Pastrnak
At the start of their five-game road trip, David Pastrnak returned from a foot injury and tallied a goal in his second game back at Ottawa. He suffered another setback in his third game back, however, as he sustained an upper body injury in New York and missed the next three games against the Flyers, Sabres and Maple Leafs.
On Tuesday, Pastrnak again returned to the lineup slotting alongside Max Talbot and Zac Rinaldo on the fourth line. The 2014 first rounder tallied an assist on Patrice Bergeron’s go-ahead goal late in the second period and added a goal of his own at 12:14 of the third to give his team a two-goal lead. Not bad for a guy who only saw 7:05 of ice time.
Pastrnak’s status on the fourth line should only be temporary. With fellow Czech David Krejci nearing his return from his upper body injury, head coach Claude Julien will have some decisions to make regarding the Bruins lineup. One of those decisions will involve whether or not Pastrnak plays with his fellow countryman or Ryan Spooner, who he developed chemistry with last season.
Patrice Bergeron passes Cam Neely on scoring list
The longest tenured Bruin continues to dazzle with his excellent performances on a nightly basis.
With his second period goal on Tuesday, Bergeron passed Bruins President Cam Neely for ninth on the all-time scoring list. With 591 career points, he trails the next former Bruin on the list, Terry O’Reilly (606), by 15 points for eighth in franchise history.
As impressive as Bergeron’s accolades are, the best hockey is still ahead of him. When his career is all said and done, his number will certainly be hanging in the TD Garden rafters.
Habs problems more than just an injured Carey Price
There was a reason for optimism for Et Bleu Blanc Rouge supporters in the early portion of the 2015-16 campaign. With reigning Hart and Vezina winner Carey Price, P.K. Subban and newly appointed captain Max Pacioretty, the Habs won their first nine games of the season setting a franchise record.
Well, a lot has changed over the last few months. Price has been injured, the defense is in flux, their offense is inconsistent and the rampant rumors of coach Michel Therrien’s future have turned optimism into pessimism in Montreal as the Habs are 4-16-1 in their last 21 games.
For a team that always has high expectations, the Canadiens sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. Even when Price returns to the lineup after the All Star break, they are going to need help in other areas.
A touching pregame tribute to Denna Laing
Prior to Tuesday’s game, the Bruins and Canadiens announced that the Winter Classic sweaters that they wore at the Bell Centre will be auctioned off to support Denna Laing’s recovery. The bidding started at 7:05 EST on auctions.nhl.com/dennalaing and concludes until February 11th.
That wasn’t all they had in store in tribute to Laing. Before the national anthems, the Bell Centre had a touching tribute to Laing that included a video montage of the Boston Pride forward featuring images of her both on and off the ice.
Even in a historic rivalry, the Bruins and Canadiens put their differences aside for a good cause. That, in part, is what makes the hockey community great.