MONTREAL — The timing was perfect. The Bruins’ fourth line had been hemmed in their zone while the Canadiens had near miss after near miss, the puck rocketing through the crease and off Tuukka Rask near the end of the second period.
But seconds can change so much. And after a merciful line change, Boston’s top line was heading back up the ice, and Jarome Iginla was feeding the puck to Milan Lucic for the score that increased the lead to 3-0.
“There’s no doubt, that was a big goal,” coach Claude Julien said after the Bruins’ 4-1 win Wednesday night at the Bell Centre. “We had been hemmed in our own end for quite a while there. It was nice to get that goal — it kind of took a lot of pressure off us.”
The pressure, at least early, had been on Rask, who came into the game 2-10 against the Canadiens in his career with an .899 save percentage and 2.88 goals-against average. The pressure, too, had been on the Bruins, who had lost five straight to the Habs, including two this season.
But by the final buzzer Rask had earned the win, stopping 35 shots in Boston’s sixth straight victory. Though as Rask pointed out, he’s still not even close to .500 against the Canadiens. “I felt good against them, but I still think I’ve got a losing record, so I’ve got to win some more games,” he said.
For now, one game was enough. The Bruins have collected points in each of their last 11 road games, at 8-0-3, their longest stretch since they also had points in 11 consecutive road games in 2003-04. The two points brought the Bruins back to within one point of Pittsburgh at the top of the Eastern Conference.
“[Rask] kept us in the game, for sure, in the first period and had some huge saves for us,” Patrice Bergeron said. “That’s something you hear almost every game now with him. He does that for us night in, night out. I thought we responded really well from his performance in the first.”
Rask had to make 14 saves in the first 20 minutes in order to keep the score tied heading into the first break, as the Canadiens started hot and heavy, using their speed to their advantage. As Lucic said, “It seems like every time we’re in this building they come at us with just the full-court press.”
So, no, these weren’t exactly easy chances. Two of them were breakaways — the Canadiens would later add a third, in the second period, by Tomas Plekanec on the penalty kill — with Rask deflecting a bid by Max Pacioretty at 8:36 of the first, followed by a stop on Alex Galchenyuk at 14:15 also on the PK.
So, Rask was asked, how much credit did he take for keeping the team in the game in the frenetic first period?
“Yeah, I don’t know,” he said, smiling. “I always take credit. Not more than usual.”
His teammates, on the other hand, were more than happy to give him that credit.
“Obviously, Tuukka kept us in there today,” Lucic said. “Whenever we can withstand that pressure, it’s always given us a chance to win, and today we were able to withstand that pressure that they came at us with right off the bat.”
By the time the teams came out for the second period, something had changed. The Bruins had altered their approach.
“Going back to having good layers and good forecheck,” Bergeron said. “They were using that reverse way too much on us. We weren’t ready for it, and they were always getting out of their zone clean. We adjusted that. We moved our legs also a lot quicker and we were first on the pucks a little bit more and that helped a lot.”
And then the goals started coming for the visitors, beginning with Carl Soderberg — who has five points in his last four games — beating Peter Budaj just 1:33 into the second. They added on at 9:25 of the period, on a perfect set of passes from Bergeron to Brad Marchand back to Bergeron, who one-touched it into the net for his 19th.
Then, after Lucic had nabbed his 20th of the season, the third time in his career he has accomplished the feat, Zdeno Chara made it 4-0 just 23 seconds into the third.
Montreal got one back on a scramble in front of the net at 2:46 of the third, credited to David Desharnais, but it was not nearly enough.
And with that needed win, the Bruins demonstrated the Canadiens weren’t exactly the bad matchup that had been previously supposed. They, too, made up for the last game the teams played against each other, a bad 4-1 loss at TD Garden before the Olympic break. It was a showing that Lucic called “real important.”
“It is a nice way to answer, especially after what happened last game against them,” Bergeron said. “They embarrassed us in our building. I thought we responded really well. We stayed poised in that first, even though it wasn’t our best start, and we battled through it and we got it going.”