The Bruins lost Game 1, 4-3. P.K. Subban scored the power-play winner at 4:17 of double OT.
That Game 1 even went extra was a miracle worthy of religious investigation.
The Bruins dominated Thursday night. They hounded the puck. They sent the Canadiens backtracking with wave after wave of pressure. They laid waste to the Montreal net with 51 pucks while limiting the Canadiens to 33 shots on goal. They overwhelmed the Canadiens in attempted shots, 98-58. Carey Price’s white road jersey looked like Daytona International Speedway because of all the rubber wear it was bearing.
All four lines, especially the first, had good pushes of speed through center ice and down-low cycling time.
But there were things that worked against the Bruins: bad luck, Price’s lights-out goaltending performance, JV play from Tuukka Rask, and critical mistakes — including two power-play goals against — at the worst times.
The most crushing moments took place before Subban’s winner, his second power-play goal. Matt Bartkowski was called for holding on Dale Weise. On the power play, Patrice Bergeron lost the faceoff to Tomas Plekanec. Brad Marchand couldn’t streak out fast enough to bother Subban. With Brendan Gallagher engaging Zdeno Chara in front, Subban whistled a slapper that only drew a wave from Rask (29 saves).
Yet if the Bruins repeat this kind of performance in Game 2 on Saturday, they’ll probably be happy with the outcome.
Hockey often comes down to numbers. It’s about getting more chances — high-quality ones, at that — than your opponent. Even if a goalie is playing out of his mind, he cannot stop every bonafide attempt. Eventually, the math works in your favor.
Repetitive punches to the head eventually lead to a knockout blow. The more the Bruins play like they did in Game 1, the more swings they’ll take at on-the-ropes Canadiens. No team can absorb so many haymakers and stay upright three more times.
Even when they trailed, 2-0, after 40 minutes, the Bruins were submitting their most one-sided performance of the postseason. After halfway through the first period, the Bruins controlled the puck on almost every shift. They dragged it around the red-alert areas in the Montreal zone.
“They scored the first two goals, but we found our game and we found it quickly,” said Johnny Boychuk. “We scored those three goals and didn’t give up and kept going.”
No matter how insane Price played or how rotten the Bruins’ puck luck was, the odds were in their favor. From the Canadiens’ perspective, they repeatedly lit the fistful of matches they clenched within their bleu, blanc, et rouge gloves. Eventually, those matches would cause a bonfire.
The Bruins launched their comeback at 2:44 of the third period. Because they ragged the puck down low, the Canadiens were caught in scramble mode. When Bergeron set up in front of Price, he gained position on Alexei Emelin. And when Reilly Smith flipped a bad-angle goal, it didn’t matter that it was moving slower than Friday afternoon traffic on 93 North. Bergeron took away Price’s eyes. Even ripping-hot goalies such as Price need to see the puck to stop it.
The rally continued at 6:30. This time, the Bruins worked their transition game. Milan Lucic entered the offensive zone with speed and had support from his linemates. The Canadiens had numbers back to take care of the Boston forwards. But Torey Krug decided to support the rush. Lucic found the trailing Krug. The defenseman finished the sequence by hammering a slap shot past Price.
Even when Francis Bouillon scored the goal to make it 3-2, the Bruins were in good shape. They were getting good offensive sniffs on every shift.
That continued with the No. 3 line, tweaked to feature Daniel Paille on the left wing instead of Justin Florek. The third line controlled the puck down low. They got Price moving sideways. With the Canadiens collapsing, Marchand spotted Boychuk wide open up top. With plenty of time and space, Boychuk had seemingly hours to wind up and tee off one of his signature slap shots. Boychuk’s blast beat Price at 18:02 of the third.
There were so . . . many . . . other . . . chances.
In overtime, David Krejci, the Bruins’ best player, had a backhand bid that Price booted out. Later in the rush, Price saved a tipped puck to keep the game tied at 3-3. There was Price’s kickout of Jarome Iginla in the second. The Dougie Hamilton slapper that rattled iron later in the second. The Lucic wide-open whiff in the third. So many sniffs. So few results.
The Canadiens had no answer for the first line. Krejci, playing his most spirited game of the playoffs, regularly created chances for himself and his linemates. Krejci played 29:28, second-most behind Chara (32:25). They backed up Emelin and Andrei Markov on just about every shift.
It took the first line until Game 4 of the first round to settle into its rhythm. They are having no such issues in this round.
At the other end, the top line’s foil was nowhere in sight. The Bruins were so good at controlling the puck that Montreal’s first line of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, and Thomas Vanek never had the puck. The defense — Chara plus Bergeron — was so airtight that Montreal coach Michel Therrien pulled Vanek off the line at times. Therrien was so desperate to acquire some air for Vanek that he gave Weise, a fourth-liner, some of the sharpshooter’s shifts. Vanek finished the night with zero shots in 18:58 of ice time.
The Canadiens will have to make major changes before Saturday’s Game 2. They have to address their fear of handling the puck. They’ve got to get it onto their best players’ sticks. They must relieve some of the heat off their goalie. Price can’t possibly be as unconscious in Game 2 as he was on Thursday. Rask, meanwhile, shouldn’t be as leaky.
The Bruins will continue to roll. The Bruins are stubborn. They keep digging and grinding and hammering until the wall they face, even one named Price, starts to crumble. At this rate, that will happen soon enough.
Holding call in double OT costs Bruins in Game 1 | Dan Shaughnessy: Bruins’ loss to Canadiens a kick to the stomach | On Hockey: Bruins in good shape despite Game 1 loss | Montreal’s P.K. Subban a productive provocateur | Canadiens’ Carey Price stands tall in net | Timeline: Bruins-Canadiens rivalry | How Bruins-Canadiens match up