3 Takeaways from the Boston Bruins' 4-1 Victory over the Montreal Canadiens
The NHL standings will not do justice to the statement the Boston Bruins issued by stamping a 4-1 triumph over the Montreal Canadiens. The Atlantic Division leaders augmented their lead over the third-place Habs to 14 points by cutting Montreal’s lead in the 2013-14 season series to 2-1-0.
Yet both the standings and Wednesday’s score will not do justice to the lingering questions in this matchup.
The Bruins warrant copious credit for cracking open an initial 4-0 lead and then warding off their hosts. They exceeded their archrivals’ desperation when there was ample cause for the opposite.
Remember, though, that both teams are still gelling with their additions from last week’s trade deadline. Remember that the Bruins got away with losing 40 out of 65 faceoffs, including an uncharacteristic 12-of-26 showing by Patrice Bergeron.
Remember that Montreal was utilizing its backup goaltender, Peter Budaj, while Carey Price continues to nurse an injury. Kevin Allen of USA Today wrote Wednesday that Price is “getting closer to being ready,” which likely means he will scrape the blue paint when the rivals reconvene March 24 at TD Garden.
Then again, Allen also made note of Budaj’s strong history (a 4-1-0 career record) against the Bruins. That had no bearing on this meeting.
For now, from a Boston standpoint, a win is a win, even if it was not 60 smooth minutes. The goaltender and goal-scoring committee perked up when necessary to stretch this winning streak to six games.
On that note, here are the top three storylines stemming from the latest Bruins-Habs bout.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com
Rask Rights Many Wrongs
In stark contrast to his counterpart, Budaj, Tuukka Rask entered Wednesday’s action with a 2-10-2 career record versus Montreal. His save percentage was south of .900 in 15 total meetings (.899) with the Habs and the previous two within this season (.889).
When the circumstances summoned his services in the tone-setting stages, he took action to kick ice chips over that history. He forced the contest’s first two whistles within the first 70 seconds of play. One of those snuffed a bid by Max Pacioretty from a whispering distance of eight feet.
Rask stood up to Montreal’s leading goal-getter again at the 8:37 mark. The Boston backstop came through with his right boot to stone Pacioretty’s bid on a partial breakaway.
And those were just the netminder’s early even-strength highlights.
By the first intermission, the Canadiens had more than doubled the Bruins in the shooting gallery, running up a 13-6 tally in shots on goal and a 26-12 difference in attempts. Their power play was the prime factor in that lopsidedness. Six of their first 13 stabs at Rask and 11 of their 26 total attempts came over their first two man-advantage segments.
None of that broke the goose egg in Rask’s goals-against column. Neither did any of the 14 bids he confronted in the middle frame, some of which were additional cases of the backstop bailing out the blueliners.
By the second siren, the Bruins had rewarded Rask by burying three biscuits behind Budaj. By the third, he had repelled 35 of 36 shots en route to first-star accolades.
Dissatisfied Depth Strikers
Rask’s skating mates started picking up their end of the bargain in the second minute of the second stanza. The first line induced an icing on the Habs at the 1:15 mark and gave way to the third line.
Two offensive-zone faceoffs later, Carl Soderberg pounced on a loose puck and spooned it to the right of Budaj for the icebreaker.
The same unit stayed on for the subsequent draw and issued two more attempts, including a 16-foot sniff by Loui Eriksson. They gave way to the fourth line on the fly and watched Gregory Campbell and Jordan Caron carry on the follow-up shift.
Campbell tested Budaj and Caron barely missed with shots at 2:32 and 2:34, respectively, each from within fewer than 15 feet.
The habit of fastidiousness extended to the upper echelon of the Bruins depth chart en route to a multi-goal edge. Bergeron and Milan Lucic polished off crisp dishes from linemates Brad Marchand and Jarome Iginla, respectively, in the middle frame.
Later, after Zdeno Chara and Montreal’s David Desharnais traded tallies early in the third, Boston wasted little time on another follow-up shift. Budaj deflected a Reilly Smith wrister out of play for another stoppage at 2:54, eight seconds after the goal at the other end.
While that hustle did not restore Boston’s four-goal advantage, it conveyed a clear-cut motive to repress any burgeoning momentum on Montreal’s side. That can be just as vital as the third and fourth line’s actions after Soderberg drew first blood.
Vanek Does Not Vanish
Prior to Wednesday’s faceoff, nhl.com managing editor Arpon Basu highlighted Thomas Vanek’s reassignment to a two-way depth line with Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec.
Vanek stuck with that line for the better part of the first 40 minutes. But on his first shift of the third period, he was in action with Desharnais and Pacioretty. In turn, he was in on the scoring play that shattered the shutout, nabbing credit for an assist.
That makes 62 points in 54 career clashes with the Bruins, whether that was as a Sabre, an Islander or a Canadien. In addition, regardless of linemates, he saturated his stat line on the night with five shots on goal out of eight attempts.
Naturally, Basu’s write-up also touched upon Vanek’s unwavering productivity at Boston’s expense. When Basu inquired, the new Canadien mused, “The last four or five years Boston has been one of the better teams in the League, and you want to play your best against the best teams.”
That actually explains it well enough and suggests that he is fit for the rivalry.
Vanek did not do enough with his new allies to fluster the Bruins on this night, yet he did enough to remind all observers what he is capable of. Odds are he will grow into a greater threat in this matchup as he and the Habs take more time to coalesce.
In turn, to the point Vanek made to Basu, Boston needs to appreciate his respect and continue to earn it by matching his compete level.