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  • What we learned: Bruins “fight for every inch” to down Canadiens

    Tim Rosenthal January 25, 2023

    If there’s one team who has the incentive to provide a roadblock in the Boston Bruins’ quest for NHL history, it’s the Montreal Canadiens.

    For the first time this season, the two heated Original Six rivals finally renewed acquaintances at the Bell Centre. Despite the 35-point disparity entering Tuesday’s tilt, the injury-ridden Habs gave the Bruins all they could handle.

    Kirby Dach buried a pair of rebounds past Jeremy Swayman. Sam Montembeault showcased another stride forward in the likely post-Carey Price era of Canadiens hockey, making multiple timely stops, including a bid on David Pastrnak’s one-timer and a Pavel Zacha breakaway attempt during the second 20.

    The Bruins didn’t have their ‘A’ game Tuesday night in Montreal. At times they didn’t have their ‘B’ game either. Their passing game in the attacking end appeared off during certain stretches of play.

    But Boston’s battle-tested bunch overcame another set of obstacles.

    Taylor Hall provided a needed equalizer with 5:48 remaining in the middle stanza. The veteran forward snapped his 16-game goal drought after burying a chance on the doorstep during Boston’s second power-play attempt.

    David Krejci provided another gritty goal to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead after tipping Pastrnak’s point shot past Montembeault midway through the third.

    The Habs quickly provided another roadblock on Dach’s second of the night a mere 1:46 after Krejci notched his 12th goal of the season. But once again, the Bruins answered.

    Fittingly, Patrice Bergeron put the Bruins ahead for good with 2:55 remaining. The “Son of Quebec” promptly buried a secondary scoring chance off a faceoff win created from Pastrnak’s shot attempt for his 18th marker of the year.

    Pastrnak capped off his four-point night with the empty-netter to secure a tightly-contested 4-2 win for Boston.

    “I thought it was a classic rivalry game. I thought the Canadiens played hard, and… we had to fight for every inch,” Bruins coach and Montreal product Jim Montgomery told NESN’s Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley. “Typical Boston Bruins. The spoked B found a way led by our captain. I thought Brad Marchand was incredible tonight, and the Czech line [Pastrnak, Krejci and Zacha] came through with a couple of key goals for us.”

    Montgomery and company continue to maintain their torrid pace in their quest to surpass the Montreal Canadiens’ legendary 132-point campaign in 1976-77.

    Here’s what we learned after the Bruins became the fastest team in league history to reach the 80-point threshold.

    Where would the Bruins be without Bergeron and Krejci?

    The Bruins entered the off-season with a bit of uncertainty surrounding their first and second-line center outlook for 2022-23. As the summer progressed, the Bruins found Bruce Cassidy’s successor and had a clearer picture of who would anchor the two spots in the middle of the top six.

    After pondering his decision with family and other confidants, Bergeron returned on a one-year bonus-incentive deal. Krejci, who decided to continue his career in his native Czech Republic during the 2021-22 campaign, confirmed his Boston reunion after signing his bonus-incentive one-year contract.

    While the Erik Haula experiment prompted decent results on the second line a year ago, the Bruins needed Bergeron and Krejci to anchor the first and second lines.

    When it came to crunch time in Montreal, the Bruins turned to their old reliables. Once again, Krejci and Bergeron shined with their third-period markers.

    “It’s their desire and their will to be difference makers,” Montgomery said to NESN. “They pride themselves on being go-to guys, and they’re definitely that for us. I don’t know where we’d be without them.”

    Unlike previous years where they needed a top-heavy trio of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak to carry the offensive production, the Bruins possess a much deeper core of wingers. As a result, the 37-year-old Bergeron and the 36-year-old Krejci both find themselves approaching a 70-point pace.

    Currently, the Bruins possess five potential options to occupy the wings on the first and second lines. The odd man out in this scenario just happens to have a Hart Trophy on his resume.

    Hall snapped his skid with a needed marker.

    The 2010 top overall pick entered Tuesday sporting a 16-game goal drought, the third longest of his career. The two longer stretches between goals came during his brief stint in Buffalo, lasting 19 and 17 games each.

    Unlike that time in Buffalo, a motivated Hall remained an asset on Boston’s third line. What he lacked in production — notching five assists during that over month-long stretch between goals — Hall more than made up for it with his improved and assertive 200-foot-play.

    Hall’s versatility provides a luxury for Montgomery and the coaching staff. Since DeBrusk’s injury, they’ve tabbed Hall for net-front duty on the top power-play unit. Against the Habs, he played that role perfectly during the second-period equalizer, pouncing on a loose puck at Montembault’s doorstep for his first marker since Dec. 17.

    The Bruins forced plays at times against the Habs, especially through the first two frames. Hall’s work ethic on the second-period equalizer provided a needed spark and a blueprint for the third.

    The Bruins continue to out will the opposition in the final 20

    More often than not, the Bruins’ opposition needs a Vezina-like performance, a stingy defense, and an opportunistic counter-attack just to keep pace with the league’s top team. The Habs nabbed at least two of the three developments with Montembeault’s 25-save outing and Dach’s two tallies.

    Granted, the Bruins encountered their lulls, including in the initial stretch after Krejci’s 12th goal of the season, paving the way for Dach’s second of the night. Amid their speed bumps, the Bruins stuck to the third-period script.

    Instead of looking for the perfect play, the Bruins returned to basics following a rough first period. By the third, they simplified their approach. Montgomery’s bunch generated heavy traffic in front of Montembeault, generating quality primary and secondary scoring chances in the process.

    And once again, their third-period dominance overwhelmed the Habs amid their spirited effort.

    “Every line is going over the boards, and we’re playing a little simpler hockey,” Bergeron told NESN’s Sophia Jurksztowicz. “I think in the first period we were forcing plays. Sometimes it’s not as pretty, but on the road, we need to bring [the puck] on net. Tonight, once we started doing that, we got some good looks. [Montembault] made some really good saves. He kept them in it at times, but we found a way.”

    Montembeault kept Montreal within striking distance throughout Tuesday’s tilt. But once again, the Bruins delivered when it mattered, notching their 69th, 70th and 71st goals during the final 20 and improving their third-period goal differential to plus-44.

    That third-period dominance provides another significant trend toward Boston’s historic 38-5-4 run through 47 games.

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    Tim Rosenthal

    Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.


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