MONTREAL — P.K. Subban (0-0—0) was a ghost. Tomas Plekanec, usually good for a point or two against the Bruins, didn’t get on the scoreboard. Bruins killer Thomas Vanek contributed only a garbage-time assist.
Aside from the first period, the team that had dominated the Montreal-Boston matchup did nothing against a textbook Black-and-Gold performance.
The Bruins ended an 0-4-1 slide against the Canadiens with a 4-1 win at the Bell Centre on Wednesday night. The outcome was not that close. Peter Budaj, subbing for an ailing Carey Price, submitted a vanilla 28-save start. The legs that skated with such frenzy in the first 20 minutes went missing for the final 40. Montreal’s power play, which can put up video-game numbers, was blanked on three opportunities.
“It is a nice way to answer, especially what happened against them in the last game,” Patrice Bergeron said. “They embarrassed us in our building. I thought we responded really well. We stayed poised in that first period even though it wasn’t our best period. We battled through it.”
It was an important win for the Bruins. The Canadiens had their number. In the previous five games, Montreal’s speed and skill made the Bruins look like they were sputtering at dial-up speed. The Canadiens upgraded their offense at the trade deadline by acquiring Vanek from the Islanders for a song — a midlevel prospect in Sebastian Collberg and a conditional second-round pick.
For one night, the Bruins had answers to everything the Canadiens tried. Zdeno Chara and Andrej Meszaros kept Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher scoreless. The Bergeron line, tasked with shadowing Vanek, made the Canadiens’ big acquisition a nonfactor. Subban couldn’t generate anything from the back end.
It wasn’t so for the first 20 minutes. The Canadiens claimed the puck as their own. In the first period, Montreal held a 26-12 advantage in shot attempts. Only a standout job by Tuukka Rask on two breakaways — a kickout on Pacioretty, then a stop on Alex Galchenyuk — kept the game scoreless.
The Canadiens branded the puck with their “CH” logo for two reasons. First, they busted out of the defensive zone with ease. They reversed the puck repeatedly to shed themselves of the Bruins’ forechecking heat.
Second, the Bruins regularly coughed up the puck at the offensive blue line. Once the Canadiens gained possession, they used the neutral zone as a launching pad. By the time they hurtled into the offensive zone, they had far too much speed for the backtracking Bruins to handle.
“Not that it was a bad period,” said coach Claude Julien, “but we weren’t getting pucks in deep. Lot of turnovers just inside their blue line. We got better when we got it really deep and our forecheck got to work again. That came in the second and third period. That’s why we were the better team.”
The Canadiens are shorthanded. Price hasn’t played since the Olympics. Josh Gorges, one of their best stay-at-home defensemen, is out with a broken hand.
It showed in the final 40 minutes. The Bruins managed the puck far more efficiently. They placed their dump-ins in areas where the defensemen had to turn and expose themselves to unwelcome contact. Milan Lucic was on the dishing end of that punishment.
There are few defensemen who can handle Lucic’s power and fury when he’s snorting steam from his nostrils. On Wednesday night, Alexei Emelin was Lucic’s target. The Canadiens matched Emelin and Andrei Markov against Lucic, David Krejci, and Jarome Iginla. On just about every shift, Lucic laid the hammer down on Emelin.
“Just two physical guys,” Lucic said. “He’s on the right side. Left wing. We just naturally found each other on the ice. You’ve got to give him credit. He’s a big, strong guy who’s not afraid to get himself physically engaged in the game and not afraid to go into those areas. That’s what created that battle here tonight.”
That kind of abuse eventually pays off. Emelin was on the ice for the backbreaking goal.
The Bruins had scored twice. On his first shift of the second period, Carl Soderberg took advantage of a Jarred Tinordi turnover to slip the first puck behind Budaj. Bergeron made it a 2-0 game at 9:25.
But the Canadiens gained some traction late in the second. Their No. 2 line of Vanek, Plekanec, and Brian Gionta applied heavy heat on the second defensive pairing of Matt Bartkowski and Johnny Boychuk. Rask made several close-range stops. The Bruins were quick to clear rebounds, but the Canadiens kept applying pressure.
That’s when the game-changing goal took place. The Bruins’ first line gained control of the puck and pulled away. Iginla pulled up and spotted Lucic sprinting over the blue line. Because they entered the offensive zone with speed and presence, the forwards forced the Canadiens to sag back. Lucic took advantage of the slack gap by hammering a one-timer past Budaj with 1:28 remaining in the second.
“There’s no doubt that was a big goal, that Looch goal,” Julien said. “We had been hemmed in our own end for quite a while there. It was nice to get that goal. It took a lot of pressure off us.”
Pressure is what the Canadiens had applied best. They had gotten in the Bruins’ heads.
“It’s always a challenge, especially playing against a team that’s had our number the way that they had this year and three out of four times last year,” Lucic said. “We tried to get that out of the back of our minds and focus on what we needed to do to be successful. That’s what helped us get ready for this game today.”