THE GAME on back-to-back Sundays for Boston fans. Last Sunday the Super Bowl. Seven days later, the Bruins’ encounter with archrival Montreal. No better week “end.”
Unless they meet in the playoffs, Sunday’s tilt was the last until next year.
When you finally shovel your way back to the office, here’s your water-cooler Q No. 1 of the day: How many years had it been since the Black and Gold defeated the Bleu Blanc et Rouge at TD Garden? That would be five.
That last date? January 12, 2012, with Tim Thomas in net. Yep, over five years and nine games, including the 2016 Winter Classic that constituted one of last season’s home games. The last Habs’ appearance at TD was back on October 22, a 4-2 win over Anton Khudobin in net. The last two in Montreal: November 8 with Zane McIntyre between the pipes in the 3-2 loss; December 12 with Tuukka Rask winning in OT against Carey Price.
“It’s been awhile here in this building,” Bruce Cassidy said after about the dearth of home wins vs. Montreal. “We talked about this.”
A second Q for the Black and Gold experts? When was the last time Tuukka Rask beat the Canadiens at TD Garden in regulation in the regular season? That would be never, yep, never. Rask at 0-9-3 lifetime at home against the Bruins’ No. 1 nemesis. Price had won the last four on Boston ice.
Cassidy and Michel Therrien playing their backups in Saturday’s games to set up the classic mano a mano duel Sunday on the NBCSN stage with the 7:30 start. Two previous Vezina Trophy winners with those subplots on the line, not to mention two big points with Montreal in first place in the Atlantic Division by eight over Boston and even in games played at 57.
Boston at 3-2-0 last five and 5-4-1 last 10 and getting above .500 at home (13-12-0) after Saturday’s win over Vancouver; Montreal reeling at 1-3-1 last five and 3-5-2 last 10. Price’s torrid 10-0 start this season cooled to 14-13-5 since.
It was Chinese Cultural Night Sunday presented by O.R.G. Packaging. For the past week, the Bruins hosted a group of youth hockey players from China in attendance at the game.
Here’s what we learned as the delegation and interim coach Bruce Cassidy turned some fortunes around in the 4-0 final.
“You never know how those games are going to go,” Cassidy said after about his third consecutive win, “a big rivalry and it went our way. I thought we were full value for it.”
Bruins strike first; survive 5-on-3
It didn’t take long for passions to spill when Torey Krug and Andrew Shaw went toe to toe in a spirited bout 60 seconds into the game. Slight advantage Shaw.
“Krug’s situation straightened itself out early,” Cassidy said postgame, “old-time hockey, those guys took care of business and off we went to playing.”
Rask kept the game scoreless with two big stops early: a glove on a 15-foot wrist shot in the slot by Tomas Plekanec at 5:25. Again at the 8-minute mark with the pad save again on Plekanec’s left-dot blast.
“[His] performance was excellent as it was earlier this year the one game he played against them,” Cassidy said about Rask. “This season I think he’s been terrific against Montreal. We needed him early.”
At 8:57, rookie Peter Cehlarik sent a pass across to a pinching Adam McQuaid who had an open net for another goal by a defenseman, a major emphasis of Cassidy that produced two goals Saturday. It was Cehlarik’s first NHL point in McQuaid’s 400th career game; Krug also getting an assist.
“He has the hockey IQ and the hands, big enough body guy,” Cassidy said about his rookie. “You just don’t know when they come up – if they can handle the pace, the pressure, time and space issues and so far, so good.”
With six minutes to go, the B’s took two quick penalties for too many men and a hook by Brad Marchand. After spending almost the entire two-man advantage in Boston’s end, the PK kept the Habs off the scoreboard with no serious scoring chances.
Chara “shortie” and a Krejci PP tally get B’s up by three after two
A penalty to each team three minutes in ended with the Bruins about to go shorthanded. Ryan Spooner led a charge over the blue line as the PK began, slipping a pass to Zdeno Chara shifting into the slot. He deked one Canadien before shelfing a 10-footer past Price for the 2-0 lead and the second goal again from Boston’s blue-line corps in two games.
“He was dialed in,” Cassidy said about his captain. “He wanted to be out there in all key situations.”
“They’re on a roll,” he added about the production from the D-corps. “Let’s enjoy it. We’ve encouraged that and they’ve taken it to heart.”
At 15:05, the Bruins’ power play completed a perfect passing sequence when David Backes found David Krejci alone to Price’s right for his 14th of the season; Cehlarik getting his second point of the night.
B’s keep lid on last 20 as Rask earns No. 1 star
A bang-bang play off a Habs’ change sent David Pastrnak and Krejci in on Price. A Krejci shot off the backboard came out to an untouched trailing Frank Vatrano who rifled home his eighth of the year.
Kevan Miller took an Alex Galchenyuk stick to the chops, putting Boston on the man-advantage for four minutes at 13:26.
“I wouldn’t call it a statement,” Rask said downplaying the outcome. “I think we played a great game overall. It was a back-to-back situation for both teams. Even though they might have outplayed us just a little bit in the first, we still had the lead and we extended it greatly on two nice power play goals. So, it was a great game.”
The Bruins were mired in half their games with two or fewer goals scored until January 24. Since then, they have doubled that output in seven of the last eight games with four or more red lights.
“I think you see plays all over the ice that you weren’t seeing before with guys squeezing their sticks – certainly myself included,” Backes said about the increased scoring. “All of the sudden, you get that good feeling. You get different guys producing and contributing on the offensive side.”
On to the bye week
Next game next Sunday in sunny Silicon Valley in a rematch with the Sharks. The NHL CBA gives each team five days off. No practices, no games, no access.
“Guys will enjoy themselves,” Cassidy said. “They’ve earned that and we’ll get ready to go Saturday for Sunday’s game in San Jose.”
When Rask was asked if he’s going to watch the teams they’re competing with during his week off, he said: “Not a chance.”
The B’s don’t return home until Feb 28 with the next four on the road after the 5-day break. Then 13 of last 20 at TD Garden.
Savor the past two and save those playoff conversations for Sundays ahead.
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