BOSTON – Though the Habs were in tough against the top team in the Atlantic on Thursday night, they dictated the action and set the tone in a convincing win.
Relegated to the forth line alongside Travis Moen and George Parros, veteran Daniel Briere took the move in stride and struck early for the Canadiens. On his first shift, the shifty centerman circled the zone unmolested before feeding a wide-open Alexei Emelin for the Russian’s first goal of the season.
“I have no control over the amount of ice time I get, but I think tonight I made the most of my opportunities,” affirmed Briere, who is settling into an unglamorous but key role in a modern NHL team. Indeed, being able to count on timely offensive productive from all four lines is one of the main reasons why the Bruins, the fifth-highest scoring team across the league, currently leads the Atlantic Division with 71 points. Spearheading the Habs’ own “exploitation line,” Briere and his cohorts thoroughly dominated the Bruins’ bottom six, holding them to zero goals for and two even-strength goals against on the night.
“I thought our team came out really hungry at the start of the game,” offered head coach Michel Therrien, who saw his team pepper Tuukka Rask with a whopping 14 shots in the first 20 minutes. After Emelin opened the scoring, Pacioretty drove through the Boston defense and doubled the Habs’ lead. The winger’s 23rd of the year would eventually prove to be the game-winner.
“Boston has a lot of talent, they’re always a good team, and I think knowing that made us better tonight,” revealed Brian Gionta, who has made it habit of raising his level of play in important games against tough opponents. Playing 18:10 alongside fellow two-way threat Tomas Plekanec, Gionta held the Bruins to precious few scoring chances while creating plenty of offense himself. With Brad Marchand off for roughing midway through the game, the Habs’ captain made the home team pay for its indiscipline with his ninth goal of the season, chasing starting goaltender Tuukka Rask from his crease at the same time. The Rochester, New York native has a long history with the city. Though he has never played for the Bruins, Gionta did score 123 goals in four banner seasons for the NCAA’s Boston College Eagles.
Two minutes after Gionta made it 3-1, Daniel Briere struck again, once more turning his reduced role into an unexpected boon. With the Bruins’ shutdown forward line and captain Zdeno Chara on the tail end of a long and draining shift versus the dynamic Pacioretty-Desharnais-Gallagher line, the Gatineau, QC native accepted a breakaway pass from Brendan Gallagher shortly after jumping over the boards for just the fifth time in the game. He skated in alone against backup netminder Chad Johnson and handed his team an unassailable 4-1 lead by roofing a quick wrist shot. While Claude Julien’s most reliable defensive assets were mere stick lengths away from Briere, they were caught off-guard by the quick Canadiens change and were powerless to prevent the veteran from notching his eighth goal of the season.
After the game, Michel Therrien spoke precious few words about the Habs’ off-season acquisition, though he surely suspects that he could have something good on his hands.
“Daniel Briere might not have been the most-utilized player tonight, but he played his role to perfection,” the Canadiens’ coach acknowledged.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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