The Montreal Canadiens seized a 2-1 lead in their second-round NHL playoff series against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, holding their own in the Bell Centre with a 4-2 victory in Game 3.
Dynamic Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban was once again the tone-setter for Montreal, notching two points for the third consecutive game—with both points coming in the first period.
After helping to set up Tomas Plekanec's opening goal at 10:57, Subban was sent to the sin bin for his bone-crushing hit on Bruins forward Reilly Smith. Just six seconds after exiting the penalty box, the game was suddenly 2-0 in favor of the hosts after Subban streaked toward the crease and beat star goalie Tuukka Rask.
John Buccigross of ESPN reflected on Subban's modest draft status and how far he's come at the ripe age of 24:
P.K. Subban was a 2nd round pick. 13th D man taken in 2007 Draft. Now a Top 5 DMan in NHL.— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) May 6, 2014
The NHL's Communications Department noted the significance of Subban's multipoint feat, citing Elias Sports:
Sportsnet's Chris Johnston noted that fans erupted as Subban shined, displaying the exuberance and passion associated with the loyal fanbase:
The Bell Centre crowd is chanting "P.K.! P.K.!" right through the TV timeout. Electric, alive.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) May 6, 2014
Dale Weise assisted on the goal by Subban, then lit the lamp himself at 13:52 in the second period, stretching Montreal's commanding advantage to 3-0.
James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail was wondering where this Canadiens club had been after a roller-coaster regular season:
Where's this Canadiens team been all season anyway? Lot of expectations in preseason then a lot of inconsistency. But look good now.— James Mirtle (@mirtle) May 7, 2014
Boston's high-octane offense was slowed down by the physical play of Subban and the rest of Montreal's defenders, along with sensational play between the pipes by Habs goalie Carey Price.
NESN's Jack Edwards noted how well Montreal was countering just about everything Boston tried to do:
Bruins can carry the play all they want; Montreal is protecting the house and has given up just 1 or 2 odd-mn rushes. Bs haven't penetrated.— Jack Edwards (@RealJackEdwards) May 7, 2014
After yielding eight combined goals in the first two games of the series, Price settled down and outclassed his counterpart in Rask, conceding just one second-period goal.
The Canadiens' official Twitter account used two languages to describe Price's brilliance:
Price est phénoménal (encore) depuis le début du match! / Price has been great (again) all night! #GoHabsGo— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) May 7, 2014
Before Game 3, it seemed some Bruins were trying to get in Price's head, as Boston's Dougie Hamilton felt he and his teammates could beat Price high when he's screened.
According to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com), that didn't seem to faze Price:
I've seen a lot of scouting reports on lots of goalies throughout the league and that's pretty much the scouting report on everybody. It's the same for (Boston goalie) Tuukka Rask, it's the same for me, it's the same for Ben Bishop, it's the same for Corey Crawford. It's a pretty irrelevant comment, I thought.
How will this series play out?
The Bruins finally got on the board with just over two minutes left in the second period when Patrice Bergeron notched his third goal of the postseason.
Although there were other chances throughout, Price and Co. stood strong and didn't really let Boston back in the game.
That is until Boston coach Claude Julien deployed an extra attacker with just over two minutes left in the third period, leading to a goal by Jarome Iginla to cut the deficit to 3-2. It was too little, too late, though, because the Bruins were unable to score the equalizer and push the contest to overtime.
Lars Eller iced things with an empty-net goal for the Habs with just 2.8 seconds remaining.
Canadiens win! Habs withstand late rally from Boston for a 4-2 win, Lars Eller scores last on Bruins empty net. Montreal leads series, 2-1.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 7, 2014
There is a lot of pressure on Montreal to get the job done at home and carry the prominent Canadiens franchise deeper in pursuit of its first Stanley Cup title since 1993. Helping the Habs' cause is the fact that the Bruins are in danger of falling well short of expectations.
Boston won the Presidents' Trophy in the regular season by accumulating a league-best 117 points. Now the Bruins find themselves down 2-1 before they head back to friendly territory.
Winning in such a hostile environment as the Bell Centre is no small task, yet they did have some success late in the game and could shake Price's confidence by coming out with a little more energy on Thursday.
Plenty of hockey remains, but for the Bruins to be successful in the future, they can't fall into two-goal deficits as they have in the first three games.
If they can get off to better starts, Montreal may have to worry about its ability to close out the series.
That makes Game 4 even more monumental for both clubs.