MONTREAL – The Habs spent the first period pinned in their own zone, but found their range in the second frame and overtook the Bruins as the best team in the Atlantic.
Playing their sixth game in nine days, no one would blame the Canadiens for feeling a little bit tired. Coming off of a wild shootout victory in New Jersey less than 24 hours prior, the Habs had an uncharacteristically slow start to the game, only testing the Bruins’ Tuukka Rask on three occasions while Boston peppered Carey Price with ten shots in the first twenty.
“Credit to the Bruins for coming out strong,” indicated coach Michel Therrien after the game. “They took advantage of the fact we played last night and that we had four games in the past six days.”
The team’s saving grace proved to be its last line of defence. Price, the game’s first star, ran his streak of not allowing more than two goals in a game to nine contests, but he did that with the help of his backup.
“There are a lot of things I like about our team this year, starting with our goalies. They are both playing great hockey and giving us a lot of confidence. Peter Budaj has given us great performances, which lets Carey Price to come out rested and ready every time,” added Therrien. Indeed, Budaj’s continued excellence has allowed the coach to give his starting netminder the best chance to excel. Price has yet to play on back-to-back nights in 2013-14.
While the Habs headed to the locker room at the first intermission down a Gregory Campbell goal, the adversity did not shake the team’s confidence. After all, they had not lost in regulation time since November 16.
“In the past two nights, we played against two good teams that wear you out,” Price, who made 32 saves, offered. “We didn’t generate a lot of chances in the first, but we worked really hard in the next two periods.”
Indeed, the Canadiens came out for the second frame a rejuvenated team. Led by the skill and grit of Brandon Prust, they wrestled control of the game away from the visiting team, finishing the period with a crushing 18-7 edge in shots on net and a one-goal lead.
“In the first we did some good things, but it wasn’t good enough,” confessed Prust, who was on the ice when Tomas Plekanec tied the game at one with a precise shot from the side of the net. “We played with a bit more of an edge to our game in the second, and that’s how we got our goals. It just shows that if we play with aggressiveness, we’ll be rewarded. We started getting on the cycle and that really helped us take control.”
Late in the second, Raphael Diaz took a Brendan Gallagher feed and cut in on Rask. While his first attempt was stopped, it left the Boston cage wide-open for Max Pacioretty, who scored the eventual game-winner, his team-leading eleventh of the year.
After the go-ahead goal, the play tightened up on both sides and the game went scoreless the rest of the way. The Bruins pulled Rask with a minute left and, in desperation, sent Zdeno Chara in front of Carey Price in the efforts of getting a tying goal. It was too little, too late, and the Habs used their strength along the boards to guarantee the win, which allowed them to overtake the Bruins in the Atlantic Division rankings.
“The win on Saturday against the Leafs allowed us to move a bit further in front in the standings, but there’s no doubt [Thursday’s] win is the biggest so far. It’s so important to win these four-point games against rivals in your division,” insisted Daniel Briere after the game.
“I’m very proud of my players. They left it all on the ice, even if we had a slow start. They emptied the tank and I’m happy about how they competed,” opined the Habs’ head coach.
P.K. Subban was in agreement with coach Therrien’s assessment.
“For us, it was the ideal opportunity to give it our all,” stated Subban, who played 26:50 against some of the best two-way forwards in the Eastern Conference. “It’s really satisfying to know that your team is on top because you worked hard. We’re proving day after day that this team is part of the elite in the NHL.”
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.