The Bruins’ 12-game winning streak is over. Their willingness to respect the winning process is not.
The Bruins lost to the hated Canadiens in the shootout Monday night at TD Garden, 2-1. The result was the only disappointment of the night.
In the third period and overtime, the Bruins cooled tempers that were at full boil for 40 minutes. They had six power plays, including four in the third period. Patrice Bergeron scored on one of them when he tipped Dougie Hamilton’s point shot past Peter Budaj.
Zdeno Chara, usually matched against Montreal’s first line, helped turn Max Pacioretty (one shot on goal) and Thomas Vanek (two shots) into empty uniforms. The Bruins overwhelmed the Canadiens during even-strength situations. They set the pace in overtime, when coach Claude Julien rolled three forwards with one defenseman.
The difference between a 13-game winning streak and a one-point decision was a dice roll. The shootout is about luck, not about a team’s play.
“It’s too bad it ended,” Brad Marchand said of the winning streak. “But that’s not really a goal, to go on a long streak like that. It’s to play our best hockey and play the way we need to every night. It just shows that when we do that, we’re going to give ourselves an opportunity to win every night. If we continue that, we’re going to win a lot more games. That’s what we need going into the playoffs.”
The Bruins have one of the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference locked up. They could have mailed it in Monday night, just like they could have activated cruise control in the previous handful of wins. They have had, and will have, nothing to play for when measured by points.
But their effort against the Canadiens mimicked their performance during the winning streak: all in.
During even-strength play, Montreal put only nine pucks on Tuukka Rask. In comparison, the Bruins peppered Budaj with 22 even-strength shots. The imbalance reflected the Bruins’ puck-possession dominance.
Montreal’s only regulation goal came off the stick of Chris Kelly. During a first-period power play, Alexei Emelin snapped a wrist shot that ticked off the tip of Kelly’s blade and fluttered past Rask to give the Canadiens a 1-0 lead.
The other goal came in the shootout. Bergeron, Marchand, Jarome Iginla, and David Krejci couldn’t score on Budaj. Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal’s fourth shooter, slipped the puck past Rask. The Bruins are 2-4 in the shootout. In 10 games, that won’t matter.
“If we have a weakness, it’s pretty obvious it’s in the shootouts,” Julien said. “We don’t do well. I don’t care about that because it doesn’t happen in the playoffs.”
Against the Canadiens, the other shortcoming was an absence of discipline in the first two periods. The Habs have excelled at irritating the Bruins.
Brendan Gallagher goes hard to the net, then chirps whoever’s around him. Emelin hits like a train. Andrei Markov is a net-front jostler. Tomas Plekanec is good at throwing subtle prods and pokes and jabs. And of course, there’s P.K. Subban.
As usual, Subban was in the middle of the fracas. Subban rushes the puck, hammers his shots, and plays with a joyous, frenetic energy. Agitating and embellishing are just as critical to Subban’s game as skating and shooting. They define who he is.
The Bruins got sucked into that game. In the second, Marchand clipped Subban in the face. Later in the period, Subban didn’t like Johnny Boychuk’s attempted hip check. Subban took a swing at Boychuk’s head. Boychuk answered by shaking off his gloves and collaring Subban. Boychuk went off for roughing.
“I took a bad penalty,” Boychuk said. “I shouldn’t have done that. I realized that as soon as it happened.”
The penalties didn’t hurt the Bruins. The Canadiens went 1 for 6 on the power play. Their only success came on Emelin’s goal via Kelly’s stick.
But it kept the Bruins from playing five-on-five hockey. That’s where they overwhelmed the Canadiens. Montreal was down to three lines because of the first-period injuries to Travis Moen and Dale Weise. The Canadiens had to sag back and play a counterattacking game against the rushing Bruins.
“Really good,” Boychuk said of the team’s even-strength play. “We were getting it deep. We were doing the right things. If we do that every night, this is probably a rare occasion. If we do that, we’re going to be winning most of these games.”
The Bruins thrive on emotional engagement. When they have steam snorting from their nostrils, they play with bite. They make their opponents pay for daring to control the puck.
But it’s a fine line between playing hard and playing stupid. The Canadiens are good at bringing out the latter in the Bruins.
Other playoff opponents will be sure to do the same. Aside from Pittsburgh, there are no teams in the East built to withstand the Bruins four-line, three-pair hammering. The Bruins are the class of the conference. They play with skill and brawn throughout the lineup.
One way to slow down the Bruins is to send them to the penalty box. In a seven-game series, hate builds rapidly. It’s hard to control emotions when you’re beating on the same guy shift after shift, game after game.
The Bruins must manage their hate. They plan on doing so in the playoffs.
“If we happen to meet them in the playoffs — and that’s an if — we’ll deal with it,” Julien said of keeping tempers in check. “You can be sure that’s not going to happen.”